apologize

How to Apologize to Customers

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“We apologize for the inconvenience.” “Sorry for the trouble, we are looking into this matter.” If you’re a customer service agent, sending out such replies would be an essential part of your everyday routine.

More often than not, you’re likely to run into angry/frustrated customers who’re facing a difficult time with your product or service. It could be anything from a UI glitch to a network outage to a feature bug that’s been bothering them. In these situations, an apology with an acknowledgment of the mistake is a must. But it’s also equally important to get the tone of the apology correct and show the customer that you genuinely understand their position and are actively working towards fixing their issue.

Not a lot of companies do this right. Template apology responses that lack empathy and concern will do your business more harm than good. Not only do you face the risk of having to let such customers go, but you also need to think about how they can influence other prospects if they voice their opinion publicly. In this age of social media, bad reviews will spread like wildfire, and you cannot afford to let that happen.

So, how do you frame the perfect apology? Are there some ground rules you can follow to apologize for a mistake and stay in the good books of your customers? Let’s first look at what distinguishes a good apology from a bad one with the help of an example.

Consider you’re a SaaS company that lets businesses embed payment forms on their website. Obviously, you’ll have partnerships with payment gateways that will process the online transactions in the backend. Suppose one of your payment gateway integrations stopped working all of a sudden. This will lead to a huge disruption in the continuity of operations of customers who rely on that integration to process their payments. As a result, they will vent their frustration out on your support team seeking answers and immediate action.

Here’s a response where a support agent is apologizing for the problem but not doing a very good job at it:

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This is a flawed response. There are some underlying issues in how the agent addresses the customer’s problem like

– Putting the entire blame on the payment gateway provider

– Not acknowledging the impact the problem can have on the customer’s existing workflows

– Not suggesting a workaround/another gateway the customer can use in the meantime

– Not expressing urgency in getting the problem resolved

– Not specifying an ETA on when the customer can expect a solution

Now, let’s look at another agent’s reply to the same problem.

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You can clearly see how the above response addresses the grievance in an empathetic way. It also perfectly illustrates the ingredients required in crafting a to-the-point and well articulated apology that will reassure customers that their problem is being taken seriously.

There are 6 simple rules that can be followed to write more apologies like the one above. Let’s explore them in detail.

Rule #1: Get a Complete Context of the Problem

When a customer is explaining their problem to you, ensure you have a complete understanding of what has gone wrong. The error can be a universal one or it can pertain to the customer’s specific use case. Gather all the details you can from them and don’t hesitate to ask more questions in order to get a hold of the gravity of the situation. The last thing you’ll want to do is annoy customers even more by replying without having a full grasp of their problem.

Use phrases and questions like:

“Am I understanding your problem correctly?”
“Please let me know if I’m getting it right.”
“Could you give me more context on how you use this feature for your business?”

Rule #2: Acknowledge Your Mistakes and Their Impact

Customers contact support for a wide range of problems. They can be as small as a typo in a help document or as big as a product feature completely breaking. No matter what the issue is, it’s important for the support agent to acknowledge the trouble their oversight has caused to the customer.

If it’s an extremely critical issue, it’s also important to let the customer know that you fully realize the amount of disruption it can cause to their everyday business workflows. This will help the customer understand that their issue is not being considered lightly.

Some common phrases that can be used are:

“I am extremely sorry for the problems you’ve been facing with our product. I’m going to make sure that we get this taken care of today.”
“I understand how much this problem will affect your existing workflows.”
“As a business, we can definitely see how frustrating this issue would be.”

Rule #3: Empathize and Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes

Your customer may have had a rough day due to no fault of yours. This might lead to him/her being in an angry or unpleasant mood. It’s important for agents to not panic in such situations and try to visualize the problem from the customer’s perspective. Listen to their problems patiently and only speak when they are done talking to you and are expecting a response.

Your customer will similarly appreciate the candor and will respect how calmly you have handled the conversation. This will bridge any early animosity that existed and help build customer trust.

Some sample phrases that signify empathy would be:

“I would be just as frustrated if I were in your position.”
“This is unacceptable and we realize we have let you down.”
“I’m deeply sorry for keeping you waiting for so long.”

Rule #4: Avoid Using Template Replies

A lot of times in customer support, agents tend to reuse existing apology templates to save time in typing out personalized responses. This can backfire badly sometimes. When a customer is showing visible frustration with your product/service, receiving clichéd replies that do not answer or address their question directly will only further their anger.

They expect some amount of care or attention to detail when they contact support, and it’s important for support agents to respect this and respond to the customer with concern and awareness. Craft an apology that answers the customer’s question directly and be upfront/honest with your product’s capabilities so that you set the right expectations.

Don’t start your replies with these clichéd templates:

“Sorry for the inconvenience.”
“Apologies for the trouble, our team is looking into it.”
“Sorry for the bad experience. Call this number to talk to a support agent.”

Rule #5: Set the Right Expectations on Resolution and Troubleshooting

It’s natural for customers to expect quick resolutions to their problems and this can lead to specific questions on ETAs. Support agents have to handle such questions smartly while placing the customers’ interests first.

For starters, ensure you always specify a time frame or set expectations on when the customers can expect a resolution. But it’s also important that you don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Find out from your internal teams on how long it’ll take to fix a particular issue and promise an ETA to the customer accordingly. If it’s an issue that cannot be resolved soon, make this clear to the customer. In such cases, instead of specifying an exact ETA, give a likely range of dates on when the problem would be resolved.

In case it’s a feature request or something that your product cannot handle, be honest with customers about the functionality supported. If your product supports a workaround that can serve their workflow, make sure you ask the customer to give it a shot.

Here’s an example that incorporates all the good practices listed above:

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Rule #6: Follow up with Customers After Doing a Root Cause Analysis

You’ve handled an angry customer. You’ve fixed their problem and have apologized and managed to retain them. But, the cycle does not end there. It’s also important that you do a thorough root cause analysis of the problem with all concerned internal teams and ensure it doesn’t occur again.

You also need to regularly follow-up with customers to see if such issues have been ironed out and if the customers are getting the optimal experience they deserve. In this way, you can turn a once frustrated customer to a loyal user of your product.

Wrapping it up

It is true that every business makes mistakes. But, how you choose to deal with these mistakes and resolve them quickly for your customers is what is going to set your business apart. Try these tips and tricks in all your apology emails and conversations, and watch them work their magic.

So, does your team write similar apologies to customers? What are the things that you do differently? Let us know your experiences and stories in the comments below!

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