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How to Write Effective Apology Emails to Customers

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How to Write Effective Apology Emails to Customers

Nov 10, 2022
    |    
9 min read
    |    
Hiver HQ
Harsh Vardhan

Table of contents

Imagine you head customer support for an online retail clothing store. You get an email from a customer complaining about receiving a defective product. The worst part? They need the right product within the next few days.

What do you do then? Do you let the issue slide because it’s just one customer? Or do you send a sincere apology email and then do what it takes to have the correct order shipped on time? 

If you choose the former, you’re not only mostly losing the customer, but there’s a good chance they’ll tell the world about it. We found that 70% of customers will advise their friends and colleagues against buying from a brand following a negative service experience!

Whereas if you choose the latter and decide to fix the issue, that’s a step in the right direction. An effort that helps repair your relationship with the customer. This step can eventually lead to the customer praising your brand among their friends and family and even on social – on how you turned around a bad experience! You could gain a customer for life and attract more prospective customers through positive word-of-mouth.

But apologizing for a mistake or a slip-up isn’t just about saying sorry and moving on. It needs to be heartfelt and meaningful. Your apology must sound like an actual apology. 

This gets even trickier when support agents have to write apology emails. Unlike phone or in-person conversations, it can be challenging for customers to strike a chord with what you’re saying in an email. It lacks non-verbal cues like facial expressions and tone of voice.

That said, there’s a way to craft effective apology emails, and it’s not rocket science. Before we get into that, let’s take a closer look at many brands’ common conundrums.

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The importance of writing effective apology emails to customers

Let’s face it – in the business world, mistakes happen. Even the best brands slip up, and that’s normal. 

Most times, your customer support team bears the brunt of customer complaints. Your frontline support staff has to deal with angry customers when an experience turns south. 

What should their response ideally be in such situations?! It’s pretty simple: first and foremost, you’d want to apologize and take full responsibility. 

Sounds simple but a dilemma comes into play, as brilliantly explained in this Harvard Business Review article. On the one hand, admitting to a mistake feels uncomfortable. That’s because, on a psychological level, we are proclive to find reasons or excuses to avoid saying sorry. Let’s also not forget that a battle of egos is at play. 

On the other hand, companies would want to assess the situation from a legal perspective just to ensure no further complications arise.

While this is understandable, the reality isn’t as complicated as some companies make it out to be. Most apologies are low-cost and can help turn around negative experiences.

So much so that there’s a school of thought that service failures can be seen as opportunities to improve customer loyalty. 

customer-service-apology-email
The Service Recovery Paradox

In fact, apologizing is one of the most crucial steps to retaining disgruntled customers. Owning up to your mistakes is also a fair reflection of customer-centricity. Look at all the famous customer-centric brands. As much as they’re known for delighting customers at every step of their journey, they quickly offer an apology when necessary.

From Adidas apologizing for an insensitive subject line around the Boston Marathon to Jeff Bezos saying sorry for the infamous Kindle incident that saw Amazon delete copies of the books “1984” and “Animal Farm” from users’ Kindles, it’s pretty evident how successful brands hardly shy away from a mistake.

But, if your company isn’t willing to own up and apologize for a mistake, your business relationships could suffer, and the consequences could be far-reaching. 

One unresolved negative customer experience could require up to 12 positive reviews to annul. Also, let’s not forget that disgruntled customers are more susceptible to churn and that you have to spend nearly 6-7 times more money to attract new customers. 

Pointillist’s calculation of customer retention gives you a fair idea of how important it is to fix negative experiences and retain customers — from a monetary standpoint.

customer-service-apology-email
An example of how customer retention can generate additional revenue

Now that you’ve understood the WHY behind apologizing to customers let’s dive into what goes into writing good apology emails. 

The key ingredients of a good customer apology email

We’ve already touched upon the fact that conveying an apology via email can be tricky. But your support reps need to perfect it because email is one of the most preferred customer support channels

So, how do you craft excellent apology emails? What are some of the basics you need to keep in mind? Let’s take a look!

1. Empathy is key

What’s worse than not saying sorry is saying it for the sake of it. A shallow ‘We’re sorry for the inconvenience caused’ will do more harm than good, as customers can see through it. It’s most likely to show that your brand doesn’t genuinely care about its customers. 

So, the first step is always figuring out WHY the customer is frustrated or WHY the customer’s experience went south. 

The reason could be technical issues, service downtime, product malfunction, long wait times, and poor packaging. Whatever it is, let the customer know that you understand their pain.

In other words, show that you empathize with what the customer is going through. How do you do this? Place yourself in the customer’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like. The customer would have had certain expectations, and it’s only natural to feel frustrated when they aren’t being met. 

Some phrases you can use to translate that empathy in an apology email: 

“I can see how important this is in your everyday routine…”
“I can totally understand how frustrating this has been…

“I would have reacted similarly…”
“I can relate to what you’re going through…”
“I can understand why you’re feeling this way…”

The moment you show empathy, it makes the customer feel better. Why? Because it’s a sign that you’ve not only read their query/complaint but put in the effort to understand their pain points. 

2. Saying Sorry

‘Sorry’ is a powerful word appropriately used with the proper context. While it cannot undo what’s already been done, it can help ease the pain and repair relationships. It can ease things off between people and, in many ways, signal a fresh start to things. 

The same holds true in customer service. When you empathize with a customer and apologize to them, it shows that you’re willing to accept that you’re at fault. 

There’s no need to overthink if you should apologize to a customer. Just say it. It’s a shallow effort!

Psychologist Robert M. Gordon goes into the power of apologizing in this TED talk, where he explains how saying sorry can actually amend and repair relationships.

So, how do you write a sincere apology email to a customer? Here are some phrases you can use: 

“I’m really sorry that I’ve kept you waiting…
“I’d like to apologize for the delay caused…”
“I’m so sorry for misplacing your order…” 
“I shouldn’t have done that. I’m really sorry for that…”

3. Own up and explain what went wrong

One of the most important aspects of writing good apology emails is never playing the blame game. Don’t tell the customer somebody else messed up. Don’t shift the blame on R&D, Sales, or Marketing. 

Instead, take ownership of the problem and explain what went wrong without pointing fingers at the customer. Customers will appreciate it if you give them clarity following an apology. 

In fact, a detailed study into effective apologies found that “Acknowledgement of responsibility” and “Explanation of what went wrong” are must-haves when crafting apology messages.

For instance, if a customer is pissed with a delay in resolving their query, give a brief explanation for why it happened. Was it because you had a new product releasing that took up most of your time? Was it because you were short on staff? Or was it a case where your support team simply missed out on the query (we’re all humans!)?

customer-service-apology-email
Apologizing to customers can lead to an increase in retention rates

While it’s essential to explain what went wrong, don’t get into the nitty-gritty. What’s done is done; you can’t undo it.  

4. Offer a solution

There’s only one thing more important than apologizing and owning up to your mistake – offering a fix or a resolution to what’s happened. 

Apologies in customer service are futile if they don’t come up with an answer to the problem. If you’ve fixed the situation, let the customer know about it and tell them what you did to rectify the mistake. If you believe customers can do it themselves, explain the steps (with screenshots preferably) or redirect them to the relevant FAQ page

Examples of phrases you can use in this scenario: 

“We’ve diagnosed the issue with your system…”
“I’ve now processed your delivery and tagged it as a priority…”
“To fix this issue, all you have to do is…”

In many cases of poor service experiences, it helps if you can go one step further and offer some form of compensation. This is a great way to mend customer relationships and compensate for all the stress you’ve caused them.

Compensation could take various forms:

  • Discount code or reimbursement coupon 
  • Free goodies or services 
  • Monetary compensation such as a refund.

When offering compensation, you must empower your frontline support staff to take the call on this. Give your support team the freedom to decide in which cases it makes sense to offer compensation and what kind of compensation they could offer. 

5. Regularly document and review all support issues

While this has nothing to do with crafting good apology emails, it’s a good practice for companies to incorporate.

Ultimately, you want fewer mistakes and have as few unhappy customers as possible. That’s why it is essential for customer service teams to constantly review terrible service experiences, analyze what’s gone wrong, and find long-term solutions to these problems. 

If most of the complaints are around product outages, it will make sense to coordinate with the R&D team on a fix. If complaints arise mainly due to speed of service, you might have to look at ways to improve employee efficiency or recruit more support staff.

When you take strides to make such strategic improvements, it results in fewer customer complaints. In turn, your customer support team can focus their efforts on more impactful tasks, such as improving their user experience.

So, how do you write a customer apology email? Here are 7 templates that can help!

If you’re looking for inspiration to craft heartfelt business apology letters, we’ve put together some email examples for different scenarios that you might find helpful.

Keep in mind that these apology letter templates are only meant to use as a reference. It’s essential that, while you follow this skeleton, you also incorporate your brand’s unique voice and tone into these emails.

customer-service-apology-email

1. Negative product or service experience

Dear [Customer Name],

Thanks for letting us know about your bad [product name]. I’m sorry we let you down.

We completely understand your disappointment. Please accept my apologies.

We’ve shipped a replacement [product name] to you. We’ve also enclosed a $15 discount coupon which you can use on your next purchase from us.

[Customer Name], thanks for bringing this issue to our notice.

[Your name],

[Your Signature]

——————————

Dear [Customer Name],

I’m really sorry that you had to follow up multiple times. We’re understaffed this holiday season and missed out on your query.

But that’s no excuse. We completely understand your disappointment.

To fix this situation, [Explain the solutions and how you’ll provide them].

[Offer an incentive or compensation].

[Customer name], please accept my sincerest apologies for the stress this has caused you.

[Your name],
[Company Name]

2. Billing error

Dear [Customer Name],

Thanks for contacting us. I’m really sorry that we charged you twice. It was an error in our system.

I’ve processed a full refund of [AMOUNT], including extra charges and tax. This refund may take 3-4 business days to reflect in your account.

If you have any other queries, feel free to let me know. I’m just an email away!

Sincerely,

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

3. Late product or service delivery

Dear [Customer Name],

We’re incredibly sorry for the delay in delivery.

Here’s what happened — [Explain why the delivery took time].

Here’s how we’ll fix this — [Explain how you will prevent future delivery delays].

To compensate for this experience, [mention your compensation].

Thanks for choosing us.

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

4. Troubleshooting and clarifying a problem

Hello [Customer Name],

I’m sorry for [insert problem here]. We’re working on the issue/glitch right now.

We’ll share our findings and appropriate solutions soon.

Please be patient with us.

Sincerely,

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

——————————

Hello [Customer Name],

Thanks for contacting us about [insert issue]. Our [insert appropriate department] is trying to understand the situation. We appreciate your patience.

We’ve tried many paths to resolve this issue, but it persists. Here’s what we’ve attempted:

[List all the solution paths you’ve attempted so far]

We’re not stopping here.

We’ll need some information from you:

[List your questions]

[Customer Name], thanks for cooperating with us. I’m optimistic we’ll find a solution.

Sincerely,

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

5. Late email responses or replies

Hello [Customer Name],

I’m sorry for the late reply.

Here’s what happened — [Explain why you’re replying late].

Thanks for your message. [Give a full reply to the client’s request].

Please let me know your thoughts.

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

6. Interruptions for scheduled maintenance

Dear valuable [Company Name] customers,

We’re scheduling maintenance on our servers/platform for [Date, Time, and Duration of Service Interruption]. We apologize for any inconvenience.

This maintenance is vital because [Explain the importance of the care and benefits to customers]

Thanks for choosing us.

Sincerely,

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

7. Mass apology email

Dear esteemed [Company Name] customers,

We regret to inform you that [Emergency Situation] has happened/is happening, and we’re working hard to salvage the situation.

Here’s what we’ve found, [give a brief incident report].

Here’s what we’re doing to fix this situation,

[Outline your solutions and execution time frame]

If we can help in more ways, please let us know.

[Your Name],
[Company Name]

Closing note

Your apology emails have one mission: to win the customer back. Crafting the right kind of apologies can help pacify customers, handle unfortunate events tactfully, and, most importantly, retain their trust and loyalty.

The math is simple: the value of retaining your customers far outweighs going after new leads. Most times, a simple apology letter does the magic.

Harsh is the content lead at Hiver. He's jocular, loves dogs, and is always up for a road trip. He also reads - when Netflix gets boring.

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