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What does it cost when we refuse to apologize for what we have done? What can we gain when we take ownership of our actions and sincerely communicate with customers?
When Stuart Jenkins paid for a stateroom on a well-known cruise line, he expected a fabulous experience. However, the air conditioner in an adjoining room malfunctioned, and the Jenkinses had water all over their stateroom floor. They complained and were given a $100 onboard voucher for their trouble; they did not feel this was sufficient. When Stuart returned, he wrote to the president of the cruise line to complain.

An assistant to the president wrote the following: “We understand that you feel your stateroom was in need of refurbishing, particularly with regard to the leak from the adjacent AC/HVAC room wetting the carpet, and we apologize for your displeasure.”

How do you think this went over with Stuart? It does not say that the stateroom needed refurbishing; it says “we understand that you feel the stateroom needed refurbishing.” It does not apologize for the water on the floor. It apologizes for the reader’s displeasure, whatever that means. In short, it blames Stuart for being such an oversensitive baby and does not take ownership of the company’s errors.

When Stuart received this letter, do you think he was mollified? Do you think he will book with this cruise line again? What will he tell his friends about this company’s brand? Nothing good. And if Stuart knows anything about using social media to publicize letters received from big corporations, watch out.

Would a Sincere Apology Have Made a Difference?

Imagine an alternative letter, in which the company spokesman wrote, “We apologize for the water on your stateroom floor. That must have been very distressing. We have taken steps to ensure that if such a thing happens again, a guest would be moved if an alternative room was available. While we are unable to offer you more than the $100 voucher  in the way of cash, we can offer you a 10% discount on a future booking.”
Would such a letter have put out the fire in Stuart’s heart? Maybe it would. It would certainly go farther in soothing him that having the cruise line apologize for his “displeasure.”

What If an Apology Might Backfire?

The cruise line’s response to Stuart was classic CYA communication. They did not want Stuart to sue them or demand more compensation than they were willing to give. The fear that a reader might latch onto an apology and claw at your throat is sometimes valid. I suggest you seek legal counsel if you think that you are in such a situation.

Tips for Writing an Effective Apology

  • When you apologize, apologize for what you did. Take responsibility for what happened if you are responsible for it.  
  • Empathize with the other person’s distress.Don’t hide out in roundabout phrases and bluster.  You can do this even if you did not do anything wrong, as you are probably sorry that the person is upset.
  • Focus on solutions. Get your reader out of the past and into the future as quickly as you can. 

Apologize and Be Forgiven

A proverb says, "What comes from the heart enters the heart." Most people are willing to forgive almost anything if they receive a sincere apology that takes responsibility for the error committed. If you feel your reader will be litigious, you do have to be careful. However, most people just want to be heard, respected, and provided with a reasonable solution.

Thank heaven for their forgiving spirit and bring it to life with an honest, sincere apology when things go wrong.
 ©2017 Elizabeth Danziger All rights reserved

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