There’s no company in the world that gets it right every time.
Mistakes happen, things go wrong or a miscommunication creates a less-than-ideal situation for your employees or your clients.
It’s all part of being human.
But although we can’t expect everything to be perfect all the time, it doesn’t mean your audience doesn’t have high expectations of you as a brand. When something doesn’t go as planned, how you react is important.
Most people are able to forgive. However, most people also expect an apology. And they don’t just want to hear a generic “We’re so sorry.” They expect an apology that means something.
So, what does a good apology letter look like? Keep reading to learn:
- What exactly is an apology letter?
- The art of an apology
- How to write and share a good apology letter in 5 steps
- 5 types of apology letters (with examples)
- A template to write an apology letter to a customer
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What exactly is an apology letter?
An apology letter can seem pretty self explanatory. It’s a letter that offers an apology.
But to your customers, an apology letter represents much more. Issuing an apology letter to your customers lets them know you care about them, you’re reaching out to them to fix your mistake, and you’re ensuring that the mistake doesn’t happen again.
There are many different forms an apology letter can take. It might be an email, a message relayed through a call or video message, or a statement posted to a website. The length of the letter and how it is distributed to clients usually depends on the severity of the issue—but we’ll get into this a little more later.
The most important thing an apology letter should do is create a connection with your customer. It might be distributed en mass, but when your customer reads it, it should feel personalized—like it was written just for them.
Here’s how you can do that.
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The art of the apology
Apologies aren’t always easy. They don’t always come naturally, especially when someone doesn’t admit they’ve done anything wrong.
That’s when we end up getting half-apologies like, I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt or I’m sorry but you don’t understand.
Although these apologies might technically say you’re sorry, they don’t feel genuine. They can actually feel belittling or dismissive—which could push upset customers even further away. If you didn’t get a lot of negative backlash from your first mistake, a careless half-apology can grab even more negative attention.
Think back to the Peloton ad released during the 2019 holiday season where a wife was gifted one of their trendy spin bikes from her husband. The ad was ridiculed for featuring an already fit woman on her journey to fitness.
But the real backlash came from Peloton’s apology. Rather than accepting the issues some audience members took with the commercial, a company spokesperson said they were “disappointed in how some have misinterpreted the commercial.”
Needless to say, people weren’t too happy with that apology. It puts the blame on them for not “getting it” instead of acknowledging where the company might have slipped up, even if the brand itself doesn’t feel like they did anything wrong.
How to write and share a good apology letter in 5 steps
It can take some practice to write a good apology letter, but here are five steps to follow to get you started.
1. Give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts.
When a mistake happens or a customer expresses their unhappiness, you might feel quick to react. You want to defend yourself or start apologizing profusely to start setting the record straight.
While you certainly don’t want to wait too long before issuing a response, you also don’t want to respond too quickly. If you’re feeling emotional, upset, or confused about what happened and why your customers aren’t happy, you first want to take the time to calm down, gather the facts, and come up with a solution.
Emotional responses, especially those that are angry, can get attention for all the wrong reasons. If you feel like you’re defensive in your response, you run the risk of sounding like Peloton—like you believe your customer is wrong for being upset.
Give yourself time to collect your thoughts, whether that’s just a few minutes or a full day. Still, make it a priority to respond quickly, but give yourself the time you need to formulate a well crafted response.
2. Look at the situation from the customer’s perspective.
Remember when you were a kid and you were asked, how would you like it if someone did that to you? Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is a great exercise in empathy and can help make your apology letter stronger.
If you’re only looking at the situation from your own perspective, it can be difficult to really understand why your customer is upset. And because you’re in a position of power, you probably know more of the behind-the-scenes decisions that led to the mistake, so you might be biased to the criticism.
Think about how you’d feel if a brand you loved acted the way you did. Whether you released a tone-deaf ad or your customer service reps were unwilling to help solve a problem, put yourself in your customers’ shoes for a moment.
How would you be feeling? What specific things would you care about? What would make the situation “right” again?
If it helps, make a list of all the points you’d want to hear as a customer. You can then use this list when crafting your apology letter to make sure you don’t leave anything out.
3. Share what went wrong—but don’t make excuses.
There can be a fine line between explaining what went wrong and making an excuse. While your customers probably want to know the series of events that led to the mistake, they don’t need to hear who is really to blame and why it’s not really your fault.
You might not like sharing the real explanation of what happened with your customers, but they’ll appreciate it if you do.
Keep your explanation brief and to the point. Don’t share more than you need to, but be sure you’re sharing enough information that it doesn’t seem like you’re trying to hide something. At this stage, your goal is to rebuild trust with your audience, so try to be as transparent as possible.
4. Offer a solution.
Your customers want to know you’ve heard their complaints, you understand where they’re coming from, and you’re working to resolve the issue.
If your mistake costs your customers money or time, offer to repay them or provide a discount for their next purchase. Even if you’re unable to give them their time back, you can give a good-faith effort at compensating them for the time they wasted.
Do your best to make amends. If the mistake happened as a result of a larger issue, let your audience know what you’re doing to fix the problem and ensure it doesn’t happen again.
5. Share your letter with the right person (or people).
Now that you’ve put in the effort to write a strong apology letter, you want to make sure it gets in front of the right audience.
If you’re dealing with small, relatively routine mishaps (such as an overcharge or a delayed shipment) you can disperse these personalized apology letters one-on-one. You might relay this message when the customer reaches out for support, either over the phone or through chat.
When this happens, it’s important to have the right tools in place to make distributing or sharing an apology letter easy. This means connecting with customers in whatever way works best for them.
For one-on-one correspondence, a comprehensive communication tool like RingCentral Engage Digital™ can make sure you’re connecting with upset customers in a way that fits their needs. With RingCentral Engage Digital, if an angry customer is sending complaints by email and also furiously tweeting you on Twitter, you can combine these identities to get a full picture of the customer’s grievances:
When you’re ready to respond with your apology letter, you can easily send it using the customer’s preferred communication method—maybe what the customer actually wants is a quick phone call and an email confirmation so they know a real human acknowledges their problem.
There are some instances where you might need to share your apology letter publicly. After a big mishap—one that goes viral on social media or catches media attention—you’ll likely need to find ways to disperse your message to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
5 types of apology letters (with examples)
Need some inspiration to get your apology letter started? Here are five different kinds of apology letters and examples of each from other brands.
1. Apology letter to a customer for a mistake
Mistakes encompass a pretty wide range of things, from sending a customer the wrong item to running out of your top-selling item because of a supply-chain error—like what happened to KFC restaurants in the UK.
After running out of chicken—the staple for the fast-food restaurant—roughly 900 locations were forced to close temporarily. To apologize, the brand issued an apology on digital media channels and in some newspapers and magazines.
KFC owned up to their mistake while still having a bit of fun with it. At the end of the day, their mishap caused some disruption for customers, but the mild annoyance of not getting your favorite fried chicken can be forgiven pretty easily.
What to take away: Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. If the mistake is relatively minor and you think your audience isn’t too upset about the mishap, have fun with your apology—but make sure to read the room. You don’t want to come across as insensitive.
2. How to apologize to a customer for a delay
As consumers, we’ve grown used to getting deliveries and packages just a couple days (or in some locations, even that day) after ordering. When items don’t go out on time, it’s normal to start to wonder where your package is.
Anti Social Social Club, a streetwear clothing label, was experiencing serious delays in items, frustrating customers so much that over 5,000 upset customers signed a petition urging the Federal Trade Commission to take legal action against the brand. The company issued an apology in response:
Although we don’t recommend waiting for potential federal interference before issuing your apology, ASSC does a good job of explaining their problem, apologizing for the inconvenience and letting customers know they’re aware of the issue.
What to take away: ASSC’s apology letter is short and to the point. It provides some context to the problem without making excuses and lets customers know what they’ve done to solve the problem and prevent the issue from occurring again.
3. Apologizing to a customer for poor service
When it comes to “poor service,” there’s needing to wait another 20 minutes for your takeout order to be ready, and then there’s the case of the United Airlines traveler being forcibly removed from a flight in 2017.
After a video of a man being dragged off a plane went viral on social media and news outlets, travelers who experienced the incident firsthand and those who just watched over the internet were both rightfully outraged. The United CEO sent an apology letter in an attempt to make amends:
While an apology is only step one in rebuilding customer trust after a situation like this, the letter establishes expectations for the company going forward. Beyond just saying they’re sorry, they continue to take accountability by promising to hold internal reviews and audits to improve their procedures.
What to take away: While hopefully your poor customer experience isn’t quite as severe as United’s case, you can still learn a lot from the CEO’s letter. Show empathy and understanding when connecting with your audience, and recognize when things can’t be fixed with just an “I’m sorry.”
4. Writing an apology letter to a customer for an overcharge
We rely on technology a lot for managing purchases and transactions. While it does the trick most of the time, sometimes an error can cause customers to be overcharged for their purchases. Whole Foods experienced a mistake like this in 2015 when prepackaged foods had mislabeled weights, causing customers to pay too much for the items they were buying.
In response, co-CEOs John Mackey and Walter Robb issued an apology video explaining what happened and what steps they were taking to ensure customers are charged properly going forward.
In the video, Robb outright admits that they made mistakes. They don’t try to dance around the subject or pretend that the error wasn’t that big of a deal.
What to take away: Video can be a great way to share your apology, especially if you’re trying to connect with a large number of customers at once. The personal touch that can come in when talking on video, including the ability to share emotion, can help you share emotion and create a stronger connection with your audience.
5. Apologizing to a customer for rude behavior
Whether we’re talking about a rude waiter, an unhelpful customer service rep, or an annoyed salesperson, rude behavior from an employee who is supposed to be there for help can ruin an entire experience with a brand.
You can typically see complaints of this nature on review sites like Yelp. While these issues may not be sent directly to your team, you should still take initiative to apologize for those situations all the same. Here’s an example:
This reply apologizes for the less-than-ideal experience and lets them know they’ve considered it in improving their customer satisfaction process—even if it means not winning that customer back.
What to take away: Don’t look at every apology as only an opportunity to reconnect with upset customers. Even if someone isn’t coming back, take that customer feedback seriously so you can prevent the issue happening again later on. Letting the customer know their experience is important to you can help you stay in good graces with that individual.
A template to write an apology letter to a customer
Having a template can help you create apology letters quickly and easily, and ensure your entire team is using the same messaging when resolving issues with customers.
To help you get started creating an apology letter that helps rebuild trust and repair customer relations, simply fill in the blank spaces in this template.
Dear [Customer Name], We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced due to [issue]. At [Your Company Name], we prioritize customer satisfaction and anything less than ensuring you are completely happy is not acceptable.
This issue occurred due to [reasoning (miscommunication, faulty technology, etc.)], and to ensure it doesn’t happen again, we are taking the following steps to improve [list of changes being made (training sessions, new systems and processes, etc.)].
We’re also going to provide you with [offer]. We hope this can make up for our oversight.
We value you as a customer and thank you for trusting us with your business. If there is anything we can do to further remedy this situation, please let us know.
[Company Rep’s name]
While this is a great place to start, be sure to make the message your own! Stay true to your voice (like we saw in the example from KFC) and offer resolutions that you believe will fit well with your audience. Knowing what your customer expectations and needs may be after a mistake happens can help you get back on their good side.
Writing apology letters to customers doesn’t need to be hard
Apologizing is a skill that takes a lot of practice, but luckily, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. While we always want to ensure we’re preventing making mistakes as much as possible, knowing what to do or say when something inevitably goes wrong can make the situation seem a lot less overwhelming.
Originally published Mar 16, 2020, updated Oct 19, 2022