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Crafting a Business Apology

As this is being written, the airwaves are rife with apology spots from Wells Fargo, Facebook and Uber. Each company is begging forgiveness for past transgressions and promising to do better going forward. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation—or have already found yourself in one (which is likely why you searched this topic), here’s how to go about crafting a business apology.

Gather All of the Facts

As soon as you learn of the issue, do everything you can to get all of the facts surrounding the situation. It’s important to say nothing until you’ve completed this vital step. With that said, you have to make every effort to accomplish this as quickly as possible. You don’t want to give the problem time to metastasize into something uncontrollable. With all of the facts in hand, you can craft a more complete apology.

Own It

“I admit it, I made a mistake, it was mea culpa…”

First and foremost, you must express sincere contrition. Admit to the mistake in a respectful and polite manner. Your message should also be succinct and to the point. Choose your words carefully and do not come across as sounding defensive. Bare your soul in the hopes for forgiveness. People are loath to forgive those who seem arrogant or appear to be shifting blame. Take full responsibility and outline the steps you have taken to eliminate the possibility of a recurrence.

Make the Apology Fast, Personal and Real

Again, when a situation for which you must apologize occurs, time is usually not on your side. Once people know what you’ve done, they’re looking to see how you respond and will judge that response. Among other things, they’ll be looking to see how soon you came out with the apology. They will also note how intimate it is and how genuine it seems. Whatever else you say, the words “sorry” and “regret” should make an appearance in your statement.

Do Not Say—Under Any Circumstances…

Any statement that takes the form of “but” pretty much cancels out everything you say prior to the appearance of that word.  

“Yes, we’re really sorry this happened, but—“

There goes sincerity right out of the window.

It’s OK to say why something happened, but don’t frame it as an excuse. Excuses have no place in an apology. You’re either sorry, or you’re not—there’s no in-between.

Whether you’re selling ebooks, cosmetics, electronics or furniture, if you want to put the situation behind you and get on with the rebuilding of your relationship with your customer, own your faux pas and move forward.

Other Words to Avoid

“If I—“. “I may have—“, “It might—“

The words if, may and might say you aren’t taking ownership of the situation. Instead, you’re ascribing the problem to the way the person who was wronged feels about what happened.

Similarly, the phrase “that you” also shifts the blame to the offended party.

Saying, “I’m sorry that you feel—“ isn’t apologizing for what you did wrong. It’s saying you’re sorry the person feels wronged. This will be interpreted to mean you feel you did nothing for which you really need offer an apology. The injured party is being overly sensitive.

Finally, while this is indeed an article about crafting a business apology, you should also avoid using the word “apologize”. It, too, can serve to distance you from the situation. If you screwed up and people were affected, just say I’m sorry—period.

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