The art of saying ‘sorry’ and how businesses can get it right when admitting their wrongs.

Businesses screw up all the time, it’s inevitable. Mistakes, misunderstandings and breakdowns can happen to any business. The savvy ones go into damage control, offer a heartfelt apology and move on.

But then there are the businesses that are incapable of admitting they’ve stumbled, even when confronted with their sins. Too many businesses behaving badly refuse to say “we’re sorry,” or wait until their credibility is in tatters (I’m looking at you, Australian banks). By then it’s often too little, too late.

Much is at stake with an apology. Addressing a misstep is an opportunity for businesses to show integrity, demonstrate their corporate values, and restore a damaged reputation.

So, how do you make an apology that sticks?

Let’s take a look at the six essential ingredients every apology should have:

  1. Face the music – and quickly

As far as damage control goes, bunkering down to weather the storm or being paralysed with fear over your next step is probably the worst strategy. Don’t wait a week to apologise when your customers are upset right now. Justin Bieber asked “is it too late now to say sorry?” If it’s not immediate, the answer is yes. People are much more likely to hear you out if you’ve jumped on it quickly. Plus, the longer you wait, the less sincere your apology will seem.

  1. Say you’re sorry

Yep, actually use the ‘S’ word, and mean it. Diluted words like ‘regret’ come across as though you’re downplaying the situation and dodging accountability. Own the mistake with sincerity and humility and don’t be all #sorrynotsorry.

  1. Take responsibility

Want to know how to enrage your customers even further? Hit them with a catalogue of excuses, justifications and deflections. Unless your apology is saying “we hear your grievances, we get it, we’re sorry, and here’s what we’re going to do about it,” it’s going to fall flat.

  1. Recognise what’s happened

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes; think about the impact this has had on them and how they’re feeling. Your customers are people, just like you, and they want a straightforward and honest apology that acknowledges that you feel their pain.

  1. Outline how you’ll fix it

Everyone wants to know how you’ll put things right, so tell them. Even if you don’t have the game plan nailed down just yet, you can still make it clear that you’re taking the situation seriously.

  1. Assure people you’ve learnt your lesson

People want to know two things:

  1. That you’re truly sorry.
  2. That it won’t happen again.

So, let people know that you won’t be repeating this mistake. And make sure you don’t.

Next Time You Mess Up

When it happens, you’ll know what to do now, right? Admit your mistake. Say ‘sorry’. Be transparent. And fix the problem immediately.

Nailing the apology is make or break. If you’re unsure, it might be a good idea to chat with a copywriter, like me, who can help you pen a mea culpa that not only calms but rebuilds trust.