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How to Apologise Gracefully

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 5 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Business Apology Apologising To A Client

No matter how hard we try in business we’re only human and we’re not going to get things right every time. Apologising is often not an easy thing to do and, in many instances, such as dealing with customers who are unhappy with what they perceive as poor service, any apology is possibly going to fall on deaf ears and it’s also important to remember that you may be the victim of someone who’s either simply having a bad day themselves or are so fussy about certain aspects of your product or service that they feel an urgent need to complain, whilst hundreds of other customers may have been perfectly satisfied with the level of service or standard of product they’ve bought from you. Then, there are other situations in which you may have knowingly made a mistake or done something wrong for which you accept that only an apology from you is going to be necessary to make a start on repairing any damage or upset you might have caused. Therefore, this article aims to deal with both how you would go about making an apology to a customer and also to somebody you’ve slighted in some way where you’re fully aware that an apology is necessary.

Apologising to Customers

When apologising to customers, it’s important to do so promptly. Obviously, there may be occasions when you’ll only realise an apology is necessary when they contact you but whenever you find out that something has gone wrong, make sure that you apologise for an error or poor service or product and, wherever possible, be honest with your customer and try to tell them the reason why the problem has occurred. Whether it’s solely your responsibility or you’re apologising on behalf of your company’s error, you should always have a strategic plan in place to rectify the mistake before speaking to the client. Any form of compensation or other kind of incentive to make up for any distress you or your company have caused must be carefully thought through prior and be appropriate for the level of upset and perhaps loss which has been caused. In other words, you need to try to add value with regards to how you intend to make up for your mistake or else your customer might get even more annoyed if you’re trying to simply placate them with a few well chosen words.

General Advice

The following advice would be appropriate in certain instances for both customers and clients and, perhaps even work colleagues too and is useful information if you want your apology to come across as genuine and unequivocal.


You must accept your responsibility and that you and/or your company are to blame without any reservations in doing so. By not accepting blame, your apology will seem very hollow and will give off the impression that you are simply paying lip service. Taking responsibility is one thing but that is not the same as admitting you were wrong. If you try to pass the buck or foist the blame on to somebody else, then an apology is once again going to seem meaningless if you insist that you did nothing wrong or if you give that impression.

Catalyst for Change

An apology must also be seen to indicate that you’ll be taking every step possible to ensure that the same mistake doesn’t happen again. Of course, you can never be sure about that in matters that might not be solely within your control e.g. a late delivery of a parcel by a courier company could easily happen again but in instances where you were solely to blame for the mistake, your apology must be seen to going some way to ensure that the mistake won’t happen again if it’s within your control, for example your workmanship, your behaviour or attitude.

Other things to be aware are not to let ignorance be an excuse. A problem might have occurred because of something you were unaware but whilst that might be an explanation, never let it become the excuse. And finally, don’t take it for granted that an apology will always automatically restore you to good standing. It is gracious to make the apology but let that simply be a start and do whatever you can over time to rebuild your reputation. Most people will accept that we’re all only human, that we can’t turn the clock back and that we’re all going to make mistakes. All we can do is apologise, rectify the matter the best we can and then try to move on. And, providing your apology is delivered sincerely, most people will, over time – and some need more time than others, – accept that and your relations with them will be fully restored.

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