Saying sorry. It can make grown men and women cower in fear and leave huge corporations shuffling their feet.

Yes, it's uncomfortable, but learning the art of apologizing is crucial as a business owner because inevitably you will make a mistake. Someday, you'll face an upset customer or client after missing a deadline, forgetting an important call, or completely missing the ball on a big project.

In fact, a customer demanding an apology is a huge opportunity as a business owner. When you can admit that you were wrong and that you care about making it right, you can convert an indifferent customer into a lifelong fan of your business.

But what's the right way to apologize?

1. Have the right attitude.

Without the right attitude, even the most sincerely-worded apology will fall flat. 

The first rule is to leave emotions out of the apology. This is a business issue, not a personal issue, and it deserves to be treated with professionalism and respect. Insults, name-calling, angry (or worse, passive-aggressive) emails do not have their place in a business. Even if the other party brings emotions to the table, you can take the higher ground. When answering customer service emails for my e-commerce business I've learned that a positive and helpul tone can quickly remedy the situation.

It helps to remember that your goal in business is to build trust with your customers, not to always be "right." The best way to build trust is to show that you care about your customers and that you want to provide them with a solution.

That means that even if you don't believe you were wrong, it's still important to acknowledge what your customer is feeling and apologize anyway.

At the core of every complaint is a desire to be heard, which is why you want to show your customers that you're listening and empathize with them.

2. Apologize with humility.

If you want to defuse the situation and win your customer for life, be prepared to admit to your mistake without arguing or making excuses for yourself. 

I've learned that taking full responsibility for your side of the issue shows them that you regret the mistake and care about making it better. If it's a two-sided issue, focus only on your side of the problem, not theirs.

The words you choose are also part of the equation. You'll want to choose words that are friendly and casual and avoid formalities and big "business-y" words, which distance you from your customer and make the apology seem insincere.

The best way to deliver an apology is in person, over the phone, or even in a handwritten letter if you can't speak face-to-face.

On the other hand, emails, comments, and text messages are no place for these high-stakes conversations. As anyone with a YouTube account has experienced, emotions and intentions displayed on-screen are often misread and can lead to further misunderstandings.

At the end of the day, your apology should show the person that you value them, you wish to keep your relationship going, and you want to make it right.

You'll also want to show how this mistake was a betrayal of your values, so that the customer knows that it's not part of your value system and understands that you regret what happened.

3. Win trust with a solution.

Finally, take the apology a step further by offering a solution that will hopefully make the situation right, even adding a little bit of extra service to make up for the trouble.

Offering a free service or refunding a payment for an unsatisfactory product or service is a great way to encourage the customer to stay with your business. When a customer is upset, I try to do everything in my power to make them happy even if it means offering them a full refund while I take a temporary loss. 

4. Keep the communication lines open.

If you're not exactly sure what the problem was, feel free to ask follow-up questions to get to the heart of the issue. Remember to do this in a caring way, with a genuine desire to understand their point of view so you can provide a more helpful solution.

After you apologize, ask if you've understood the problem correctly. You may have misunderstood their intentions, in which case you'll want to spend more time listening before trying again.

Finally, since you value them as a customer, you don't want them to feel chastised for criticizing or complaining. Let them know that they're welcome to send you more feedback in the future if they're ever unsatisfied with your service, and that you'll be willing to work with them to find more solutions.

Remember, an apology is an opportunity to show your customer that you care. If you can master the art of the apology, you'll be able to reverse negative situations and win over your customers for life.

Published on: Jun 18, 2018