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How to say sorry in a way that builds trust

‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word.’ Lyrics immortalised by Elton John and, later, the loveable boy band Blue. But sorry is also the most important word. When brand reputation, stock prices and perhaps even jobs are at stake, the way a business apologises to clients and consumers is vital to rebuilding trust and limiting damage. Here’s how to apologise to your consumers so you turn mistakes into trust building moments.

Three road signs with, 'I am sorry', 'Please forgive me' and 'Thank you'
It's the hardest word

Make it human and sincere

Accountability is vital when apologising. So, it’s important to put a person behind the email. Do this by using human language, e.g. ‘We’re sorry for’ rather than ‘Widgets inc. apologises for…' And the active voice: ‘We’re working tirelessly to fix’ rather than ‘Solutions are being pursued’. Make it sincere by identifying potential questions your audience may have and addressing them head on. E.g. ‘We know you’re probably concerned about how this affects your pension’. Or, ‘We realise many of our customers want to know when to expect their orders’. Then offer an answer to their questions.

Recognise the mood

If you’re apologising for sending a promotional email twice, don’t use a tone that makes it seem like a grave mistake. Language such as, ‘Whoops, sorry about that!’ is much more appropriate here than ‘We extend our deepest apologies and will do everything in our power to make this right’. Similarly, if you’re writing to inform consumers that they’re facing a significant price rise or that you’ve lost them money, don’t adopt a playful tone - you’ll likely alienate your audience.

Don’t prattle on

Get to the point. Be specific about how your mistake will affect your customer. Avoid needlessly obscure writing. Don’t avoid the issue.

Be transparent and specific about actions you're taking

Don’t just say you are ‘working on a solution’. Where possible, outline what the solution is and be forthcoming about its likelihood of success. It’s about providing tangible reassurance that the problem is being looked into and that it won’t happen again. Be honest about progress. Honesty maintains trust and keeps brand reputation intact.

Make contact as easy as possible

There is nothing more frustrating as a consumer than having to sift through a website to find a contact number or address. So include a clear point of contact in your apology.

And finally...

All companies make mistakes. After all, they're run by humans who are only human. But if you get your apology just right, you might even come out of it looking better than you went in. I mean, just look at KFC...


Fraser Coupland


Date posted: 30/08/2019

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