How to Apologize Professionally in an Email [ Templates Included ]
Updated on Mar 21, 2023
Apologizing is a part of being human, so naturally, it should also be part of your business. However, it is something that many of us struggle with, especially when having to do so while maintaining a professional demeanor and risking losing customers.
That said, being able to make a professional apology is an incredibly important skill to learn. An apology in a business setting can, among other things:
- Show that you are capable of taking responsibility for your actions (both good and bad)
- Show that you care about the recipient’s feelings and experience
- Validate the recipient’s negative feelings that something was wrong
- Be part of the reparation for any wrongdoing
- Rebuild trust
- Resolve an ongoing conflict
These benefits are especially true for service companies looking to develop long-standing relationships with clients and customers. Additionally, many of these factors are equally valid for interpersonal relationships within a company.
Customer Engagement Tactics for Small Business
If you can build a company culture where apologizing and accepting an apology are normal behaviors when a mistake is made, you will improve internal team communication and reap all the benefits that come with that.
How To Write An Apology Email
Apologizing is almost always challenging. First, it’s uncomfortable and puts us on the backfoot – somewhere that nobody likes to be. What’s more, if an apology is made poorly, it can be disastrous by looking insincere or offering the wrong resolution.
Writing a professional apology email is no different from any other and even has some added limitations to consider. So, to make sure you’re able to get it right, if and when you need to apologize, let’s take a look at some of the basics of how to write an apology email.
How To Apologize to a Customer via Email
1. Make it Sincere
It may seem obvious, but sounding sincere in an apology is more complex than you think. First, you have to continuously remind yourself that you’re writing to say sorry, not defend yourself!
It’s natural to justify and defend what you did or didn’t do because humans just hate being wrong. However, an apology email is not the place to do so, and if you start to list excuses or get defensive, your apology will sound contrived.
Avoid excuses, and when including an explanation for the fault, make sure it is explanatory rather than defensive. Never use phrases such as “I’m sorry, but …” because it undermines whatever else you might say.
Psychologist Robert M. Gordon goes into the power of apologizing in this TED talk, where he explains how saying sorry can actually amend and repair relationships.
2. Offer an Explanation
With the first point in mind, it is generally good practice to offer some kind of explanation and how this led to the impact on the customer. This can really help the customer feel like you are taking the problem seriously and care about how it impacts them specifically.
As mentioned above, make sure that this is an explanation and not an excuse. A simple way to do this is to clarify that you understand how you (or your company) fit into the mistake, which takes us to our next point.
3. Own Up to Your Mistake
A big part of a proper professional apology email is accepting responsibility for whatever went wrong. Of course, it can be painful, but honesty and owning up will go a long way to redeem you and your company.
When we’re talking about “you” here, it might not always be you – often it will be an apology from the company you represent, which can make things a little easier. Either way, you need to face the problem head-on and let the client know that you screwed up.
4. Acknowledge the Impact
Another part of a business apology email that can help repair your reputation is explicitly acknowledging how the problem impacted the customer. It shows that you realize that these aren’t small issues and have a ripple effect on other people.
This is especially important if you work in a B2B company, where a small mistake by one business can have a severe knock-on effect on others.
5. Ask Them to Forgive You
It may seem obvious, but asking for forgiveness is a good way to make your apology more sincere. It shows that you aren’t just sending them a throwaway “sorry”, but are genuinely concerned about the customer’s thoughts and feelings on the matter.
6. Don’t Make It One-Sided
A professional “sorry” email should always be as personal as possible – after all, the whole point is for you as an individual to recognize, validate and resolve an individual customer’s problem. However, sometimes an apology has got to go out to a lot of people, more than you could possibly contact on an individual level.
For example, if you operate an app and there is an outage, you need to apologize to all affected users, which could number in the millions. You obviously need to use a mass email, but in order to not lose the personal connection, ensure that it isn’t one-sided communication.
This can be achieved through feedback surveys or links to a webchat for further help. Basically, any channels of communication that allow users to have their voices heard and not feel like they don’t matter to you.
7. Deliver A Clear Solution or Plan of Action
Possibly the single most important part of a professional apology email is offering a resolution to the problem, or at least a path to get there. Explain your next steps to solve the problem and how you plan on achieving them.
You’ve been transparent with the problem; you need to be transparent with the solution. This can help foster trust from the customer at a time when they are probably not feeling so great about your business and product.
How To Write An Apologetic Email To a Colleague
Not all professional apology emails will be to clients, sometimes you need to own up to a mistake to a colleague, manager, or report. Fortunately, many of the same basic principles apply: be sincere, own up, explain the situation, present a route to the solution, and ask for forgiveness.
However, an apologetic email within a company is likely to be more personal, a little less formal, and in line with your company’s effective working relationship.
Apology Mail Templates
With these seven fundamental aspects in mind, let’s take a look at putting them into action. We’ve crafted a number of apology mail templates that you can use to help write your own email if the situation ever arises. Remember that you don’t always have to hit every one of the seven points, so choose what’s important for the email you’re sending. We’re covering:
Apology emails in response to customer complaints
How to send an apology email when informing customers of a problem
Mass apology emails for mass problems
How To Apologize to Customers In Emails When Replying
If a customer or client has flagged a mistake or problem, then you need to reply with an apology and, importantly, a solution. This solution can’t always be to fix the problem, so you have to figure out whether you can, offer something else, or need more information.
Inconvenience Email Format
Below is an example of an email that you might send to a B2B customer who has contacted you about a problem with your service. Keeping in mind the seven key points an apology message can cover, think about how you might adapt this email for your situation and voice:
Dear [customer name],
Thank you for making us aware of [the problem]. After looking into it further, we can see that the issue is entirely on our end and we are incredibly sorry. The problem was caused by [insert explanation here] and we are working to fix it now.
To get you back on track as quickly as possible, we are [insert plan of action here]. We know that this issue has greatly affected your ability to operate and we are focused on making sure that nothing we do comes between you and your goals again.
We value the relationship that we have built while working together and hope that it can continue in the future. We will keep you informed of any updates regarding [the solution], but please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Thank you for your understanding,
The reason why this template could be useful: as mentioned above, making it clear that you understand and sympathize with the client goes a long way to repairing the relationship. In this email, you own up to your mistake and make it clear that you understand why and how it impacted them.
Sorry for My Mistake Email
Below is an example of an email to apologize in a professional setting for a mistake. It isn’t a problem that can be remedied, necessarily, but something that happened that needs a genuine “sorry” from you:
Dear [customer name],
Thank you for reaching out to me about [the mistake]. I am incredibly sorry, this was entirely my mistake and if there is anything I can do to remedy the situation, I will give it my full attention.
I understand that this [how it affected them] and I want to assure you that it won’t happen again. To avoid this situation in the future, we will [plan of action].
Please let me know if there is anything I can do.
When this email can be useful: Unfortunately, sometimes an apology is needed for something that you just can’t fix for the customer. Mistakes can be made that cause issues, but what’s done is done. When crafting a professional apology email for a mistake like this, you need to be as sincere as possible and convince the client it won’t ever happen again.
Sorry, We’re Fixing it Email
Below is an example of an email that you might send if a customer has reached out to you with an otherwise unknown problem that you need to spend a little time resolving.
Dear [customer name],
I’m sorry that [their problem] has happened, I am looking into it now. As soon as we know more about what went wrong and how to help you get back on track, we will let you know.
We will get in touch as soon as possible, but if there is anything else you want to discuss in the meantime you can always reach out.
Thank you for your patience,
The reason why it’s useful: giving a quick and decisive response to a customer’s problem can help them feel heard and reduce how angry they might be about the issue. It reassures them that they are your priority, that you care about their problem, and that you are doing something about it.
Apology Email When you Need More Information
Below is an email template that could be useful if a customer or client has reached out to you with an issue, you have tried to troubleshoot it, but can’t find a solution without knowing a little more about their situation.
Dear [customer name],
Thanks for reaching out to us about [problem] and your patience so far. We are very sorry and are working hard to find a solution. While we have been looking for a way to fix [the problem], we haven’t been successful so far.
Up to this point we have [tell them how you have tried to fix it]. It would be really useful to get this resolved as quickly as possible to get some more information about your experience. Would you be able to tell us:
Thanks again for your patience, getting this fixed is our top priority and I’m sure we will be able to find a solution soon.
The reason why it’s useful: sometimes you just don’t have all the information and need to know more. This email is a way to reassure the customer, apologize, and ask for the information you need. For example, you may need to recreate exactly what the customer was doing to replicate a bug, which might require detailed steps.
How To Apologize To a Customer Via Email When Initiating the Communication
Sometimes, you know something has gone wrong before the client or customer does, which puts the impetus on you to initiate the apology. While many of the same basic rules apply, there are a few things to do differently, such as giving a clear way for the customer to respond.
Sorry for the Inconvenience Email Format
Below is an example of an email that you might send out if you realize that a client’s service was interrupted, which as a result could have affected their business. It isn’t to all your clients, just the one that was affected.
Dear [client name],
I’m emailing to inform you of [the problem]. I understand that when [the problem] happened, your company may have been adversely affected, and for that, I am extremely sorry.
[The problem] occurred because [the reason], and since then my team and I have been working around the clock to fix the issue and ensure that it never happens again. To avoid [the problem] in the future, we have:
[list of things you have done to fix the issue]
We understand that this in no way makes up for [the problem] occurring in the first place, but we hope it goes some way to reassure you that we will not let it happen again. The smooth operation of your business is important to us and we realize that this time, we are the ones who derailed it.
While we know that this won’t bring back the time you lost due to [the problem], we would like to extend the offer of [compensation you are offering]. If this isn’t suitable, please let us know.
We are always here if you have any further questions regarding this or any other aspect of our work together.
The reason why it’s useful: This example makes a clear and sincere apology, admits fault, explains how the problem occurred, how you fixed it, that you recognize the impact it had on them, and finishes up with a means of communication with which they can reach you.
The Project is Delayed, We’re Fixing It
Below is an example of when you’re in the undesirable position of having to let the customer know that you aren’t able to deliver as promised. There isn’t an error to fix or a mistake to remedy, but rather an admission that things are going to be wrong.
Dear [customer name],
It is with great regret that I have to inform you that [the project] will be delayed. This is entirely down to [the problem] on our end, and for that, I am deeply sorry.
I understand that this is not the news you want to hear, and since realizing [the problem] we have [what you are doing to improve] to ensure that it is delivered by [new deadline].
We hope that you understand, and I am always available if you want to discuss the project or what happened in detail.
The reason why it’s useful: sometimes you need to get ahead of the problem. You’re delayed for whatever reason, but rather than wait for a complaint, admit your fault outright. This allows time for the problem to be solved as well as giving the customer the knowledge that you are honest and work to solve your mistakes.
Mass Apology Emails for Mass Problems
When something has clearly gone wrong, all your customers know, and you know they know, then a mass apology email needs to be sent. In this situation, time is of the essence and you need to try to head off the issue before you get a slew of complaint tickets to deal with individually.
Service Outage Apology Mail
Below is an example of an email to apologize for a situation that affects most, if not all, of your customers. By its nature, it is less personal, but this shouldn’t make it any less sincere.
Hello [customer name],
We messed up and we know it. On [date and time], our service went down. We know that this probably affected you and your business, and for that, we are incredibly sorry. We are proud of delivering [your service] to the highest standard, and we have failed to do so this time.
The problem occurred due to [reason], since which our team has been working night and day to put it right and ensure that it never happens again. We are pleased to tell you that service resumed on [date and time], but understand that this does little to bring back your lost time.
As such, we would like to offer you [offer of compensation], which we hope goes some way to expressing our regret at this happening in the first place.
If you want to give us any feedback on this issue, please don’t hesitate to reach out via our contact form [linked].
Thank you for understanding,
When to use an email like this: sometimes you need to communicate an apology to a lot of people, which means making a broader appeal but being equally sincere. An email such as this makes it clear that you are taking responsibility and offers a way for all your customers to respond and be part of the conversation.
A Side Note on Apology Mail
Professional apology emails should always align with your company as a whole. This means keeping with the tone and voice of your company from a branding perspective and its legal and moral obligations. Make sure that you always craft your emails according to company standards, since not doing so can actually backfire.
If you’re unsure of how to respond, talk to your team management, HR, and possibly even your legal department if you have one. While 39 states in the USA have what are known as “I’m sorry” laws, mainly for medical malpractice, which prevent an apology from being used as an admission of liability in lawsuits, the remaining states do not.
The way that you write a professional apology email will depend a great deal on what type of company yours is. If it is a brand with a casual customer interaction, this voice should carry through even in emails of a serious nature. The same holds true for more serious brand voices. Reflect it!
However, this doesn’t mean you should make light of the situation, but you should take these templates and make them your own. Remember the basic principles, and you can’t go far wrong. Whenever you sit down to write an apology email, whether to one person or thousands, just remember:
Make it sincere
Offer an explanation
Own up to your mistake
Acknowledge the impact on the customer
Ask for forgiveness
Offer a communication channel to hear their voice
Deliver a clear solution or plan of action
The future of email is here,
are you ready for it?
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