An apology should be an effective tool to sustain or rebuild a business relationship. However, sometimes apologizes don’t work to improve damaged relationships.

In order to be effective there are important guidelines for effective apologies.

While the moral reasons for an apology in business or your personal life are similar, making an apology in business can be more multifarious than making an apology in your personal life.

Certainly, if you need to make an apology to a family member or friend, be prompt about it. That’s important in business, too – most of the time. (There’ll be more on the timing of business apologies later.)

The content of an apology matters.

Avoid three mistakes:

1. They start the apology with the phrase, “I apologize if I’ve offended you…” (Clearly, using the word if is not an apology.)

2. They say they’ll take responsibility, but never actually apologize nor change their behavior.

3. They ask for forgiveness. (If you’re sincere in making amends, you’ll detract from your goal if you’re asking for something back from the person.)

Even if a wrong is committed, sometimes an apology is not a good idea. The only moral caveat for not making an apology is whether the apology will hurt the person in some way or make the situation worse. For such situations, simply changing your behavior will suffice.

If you must make a business apology, there are additional considerations: How you apologize and when you do it.

Should your philosophy be that the customer is always right, then an apology is given to a customer on some occasions for strategic reasons to enhance customer retention and loyalty.

Your company should be in the business of establishing and managing good relationships – for new customers, long-time customers, suppliers and members in the community you serve.

A poorly designed or badly timed apology in these relationships will do more harm than good in your relationships.

Use best practices:

— You must fully understand the situation and the reasons that necessitate an apology.

— Know the person or persons whom have been adversely affected.

— Strategically decide how to effectively apologize.

— Decide on the timing of your apology.

Remember the customer doesn’t care about your situation or how much the incident will cost your business. An apology must be about the customer and the damage you’ve caused.

Elements of an effective business apology:

1. Provide a detailed but focused account of the circumstances.

2. Concede the offense or damage.

3. Take responsibility without making any excuses.

4. Admit the role played by you or your organization.

5. Empathize with the person and include a statement of contrition.

6. Make a commitment that you won’t repeat the offense. (Then, make necessary internal changes within your company so the situation doesn’t occur again.)

7. Recompense your customer whenever feasible.

Note: Remember the importance of timing in your apology. Normally, apologies should be made right away. However, if it’s a really serious situation that could result in legal action, delay your response until you get competent legal advice.

Some people erroneously recommend asking for forgiveness in making an apology. In my experience, asking for forgiveness only dilutes the effectiveness of your apology. It can backfire because the recipient often doubts the sincerity of the apology.

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“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

-Bill Gates


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.