How to apologize for bad customer experiences and win them back

Written by: Sapphire Li, BA

Communications specialist, 8+ years writing and copywriting for companies
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Subject: We're really sorry, you'll receive a reply by Friday, March 30 or sooner
Hey {First name},
We're really sorry about the delay, we know how worrying it can be to wait.1
Verve went viral recently and we received over 50k new inquiries in a week.2
We're really thankful for the growth and we should have had a plan in place, that's on me.3
Right now, we're working around the clock to onboard and train new customer support specialists.4
You'll receive a reply by Friday, March 30 or sooner.5
Thank you,
CEO, Verve
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1.   Apologize sincerely and show you understand how it affected your customers. Avoid corporate phrases like "we sincerely apologize", just say "we're sorry" or "we're really sorry". This is much more natural and sincere, how you'd speak to someone in person.

2.   Honestly and briefly explain what happened. Depending on your situation, have your legal team review this for any details you cannot publicly mention.

3.   Acknowledge the mistake you made and own up to it. Yes this can be scary, but downplaying what happened is unlikely to get you out of this, and carries a big risk of sparking even more backlash you're trying to dodge responsibility. Depending on how serious the mistake was and how many people were affected, it's important to have the message come from a leader from your company. It shows you're taking it seriously and speaking to your customers on a personal level, not as a faceless company.

4.   Explain the steps you're taking to resolve the issue.

5.   If the solution and/or timeline for customers vary, it's helpful to use your messaging platform to personalize the specific solution and/or timeline for each group of customers.

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Example of a great, heartfelt apology from JetBlue

This is a message David Neeleman, then CEO of JetBlue, shared after the company had an operational breakdown in 2007 after an ice storm hit the eastern US, leading to around 1,000 canceled flights.

Here's what his apology did right:

·  It clearly acknowledged how customers were affected, Mr. Neeleman didn't downplay it.
·  It explained how the situation happened.
·  Mr. Neeleman apologized sincerely and profusely
·  It outlined JetBlue's plan to correct their mistakes.
·  It sounded very human, not like a corporate statement. "We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry."

An apology from David Neeleman

Dear JetBlue Customers,

We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.

Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlue's seven year history. Many of youwere either stranded, delayed or had flights cancelled following the severe winter ice stormin the Northeast. The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly,disrupted the movement of JetBlue's pilot and inflight crewmembers who were dependingon those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. Withthe busy President's Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and holdtimes at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering ourrecovery efforts.

Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel, and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.

We are committed to you, our valued customers, and are taking immediate corrective stepsto regain your confidence in us. We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place toprovide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for ourcrewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties. Mostimportantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights – our officialcommitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward – includingdetails of compensation. We invite you to learn more at

You deserved better - a lot better - from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.

David Neeleman
Founder and CEO

What tone should we use to reply to customer complaints?

We recommend avoiding corporate phrases such as:

·  We apologize for the inconvenience
·  We remain at your disposal
·  We apologize sincerely

You can opt for a conversational tone such as:

·  We're sorry this happened
·  We're here for you
·  We're really sorry about this

They sound friendlier and more natural so people feel they're interacting with another human being, not a faceless company feeding them corporate lines.

What should we do if someone leaves a negative review with incorrect or exaggerated details?

Depending on what they said, you can:

·  Acknowledge their negative feelings if they expressed any. Validating people's feelings goes a long way to show them they're being heard. This doesn't mean you agree with their account of what happened.
·  Describe what happened in a neutral, friendly tone.
·  Depending on whether their situation was resolved or not, encourage them to reach out to support for more help.

How honest should we be in our reply to a negative customer experience?

We recommend:

·  Being honest about the reasons behind what happened, without sharing any legally sensitive information.
·  Taking responsibility if your company made any mistakes.
·  Explaining the steps you will take to resolve the issue or prevent it from happening again.

Yes it can be scary to share bad news or admit your company made a mistake. But besides following a high ethical standard, customers have access to a lot of information these days and stories spread fast on social media. Any excuses or half-truths will usually be exposed and your company could end up looking worse than if you just owned up to it in the first place and took control of the narrative.

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