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The Importance of Strong Apologies

Posted by Tasnim Ahmed

October 8, 2020

Every entrepreneur has to apologize eventually, whether it’s for misstated financial numbers to investors, a bad reaction to news from employees or a poor customer experience. The more specific you are in explaining the offending actions, the more sincere your apology will be.

Here we've detailed when an entrepreneur should apologize and how to do it best so everyone is happy and comfortable at work.

When and How to Apologize to Employees

Being a great manager doesn’t mean you’ve got to be perfect, but it does mean you should own up to your mistakes and apologize when you’ve been a little careless with your words, missed something important, or made an intentional misstep. It is also necessary to let your employees know that you’re genuine in your apology.

You can deal with such uncomfortable situations by apologizing in person or sending an email. A genuine sorry will be sincere, direct and free of justification, but the delivery may vary based on your action and who was affected. Here are four great ways to apologize to ensure that your team understands how sorry you are.

1. Send an Email/Message for Minor Mistakes

A brief acknowledgment of your error via email or message shows your employee that you care about getting things right. It can also help you establish a culture of accountability and boost your reputation as a great leader. Saying sorry can make your team feel more comfortable coming to you with concerns, and can inspire them to take ownership of their own mistakes. You may need to apologize in situations when you’ve:
  • Provided inaccurate information
  • Overlooked an important email
  • Failed to approve vacation requests on time
  • Missed an important meeting
  • Forgotten to solve lingering concerns

2. Apologize Face-to-Face in Some Cases

If you’ve hurt someone or come to a wrong conclusion about a specific person, you should apologize in person. Send your employee a calendar invitation, be prepared to listen, and try not to get defensive if the person expresses their feelings. This will help you establish constructive communication within the team. Recognize and state quickly why you’re apologizing before too much time elapses.

3. Offer Resolution

Once you recognize your mistakes, accept responsibility and express remorse, you’ll need to figure out how to make things right or fix the issue. Figure out what is reasonable and appropriate, and offer resolution to the employees to repair your relationship, if required.

4. Don't Repeat Bad Actions

The final step in a good apology is to promise not to repeat the mistake. Be sure you can deliver on that promise before offering it as part of your apology. This will make employees believe that you view them as worthy, unique and inherently valuable individuals.

When and How to Apologize to Customers

Every business may eventually face situations where apologizing to customers becomes critical, including the following instances of bad customer or user experiences:
  • Product failure: If products have issues, like a bug, system flaw or design mistake, you must apologize to customers who have experienced these problems.
  • Tools and technology not working as expected or failing to operate.
  • Slow delivery times or poor customer service — it highlights a potential gap between consumer expectations and business execution.
  • Shipping incorrect products to a customer or failing to deliver a task on time or according to specifications
  • Arriving late to a meeting.
  • Not answering emails or calls sooner.
  • Misunderstandings about project delivery.
  • Not living up to your promises or claims.
  • Unexpected problems that can delay a project
Apologizing to disappointed customers can reduce returns, increase brand awareness, help you retain loyal clients and increase revenue. You can apologize to your customers in the following seven ways.

1. Take Full Ownership of Mistakes

Take full responsibility for the behavior or incident which caused an issue to your customer. Specify the behavior or action for which you are apologizing. Taking responsibility can strengthen your reputation as a fair and honest person.

2. Acknowledge What Happened

If your customer faces problems because of your mistake, acknowledge that. It is important to own up to your error without getting defensive. Do not make excuses, because when you blame someone else, it dilutes your apology.

3. Apologize Publicly

Empathize with your offended customer's feelings. If the issue has impacted a large number of people, such as a product failure that affects a significant percentage of your customers, you’ll need to apologize publicly.

4. Express Remorse

Be genuinely regretful for your errors, start your apology with "I'm sorry" or “I apologize,” and avoid phrases, such as "I want to apologize," which is indirect. Follow your apology with a brief phrase summarizing your feelings of remorse, explaining what happened.

Avoid words, like "if" and "but" since they sidestep a sincere apology and act as a justification that suggests you’re not fully responsible for your actions.

5. Promise to Change

If you repeat your mistakes, your customers may think you don't care. You should not only apologize and admit your mistakes, but also learn from them and try to make a change. An apology is meaningless if you commit the same error in the future. Therefore, promising to change is crucial when you want people to forgive you.

6. Try to Fix the Issues

Try to repair or resolve the issue. Offer an incentive if the issue can’t be solved. If a project took longer than initially expected, you should explain how you'll handle situations like this in the future.

7. Plan to Prevent the Mistake in the Future

End your apology by stating what you will do to prevent the mistake from happening again. Do your best to follow through with this promise, or else your next apology will feel less sincere to the customer you offended regardless of how sorry you feel.


Tasnim Ahmed
Tasnim Ahmed

Tasnim Ahmed is a content writer at Escalon Business Services who enjoys writing on a multitude of subjects that include finops, peopleops, risk management, entrepreneurship, VC and startup culture. Based in Delhi NCR, she previously contributed to ANI, Qatar Tribune, Marhaba, Havas Worldwide, and curated content for top-notch brands in the PR sphere. On weekends, she loves to explore the city on a motorcycle and binge watch new OTT releases with a plateful of piping hot dumplings!

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