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The Business Apology: How to Say You’re Sorry

ApologyToday there was an article in my local paper, the Savannah Morning News, about a new restaurant in town. While this recently opened establishment, Cotton and The Rye, is getting rave reviews for its cuisine, this article was touting their outstanding customer service. It all had to do with the art of the business apology and how the owners handled a major snafu that enraged more than a few customers.

A business apology can be worth its weight in gold and is not something that is always done properly. There is an art to the apology. When handled correctly, an apology can build customer loyalty and enhance business growth; still it’s amazing how many people don’t know how, when, or even why to apologize.

Let me suggest nine steps to a good business apology.

  1. Say, “I’m sorry.” In spite of what your lawyer may have told you, those should be the first words out of your mouth.
  2. Be sincere. Your body language and tone of voice need to match your words.  People believe what they see more than what they hear. Look and sound as if you truly are sorry. And by the way, feel it.
  3. React quickly. An apology that is several days old loses its credibility and effectiveness.
  4. Drop the excuses. Take responsibility for whatever you said or did. You weaken your apology when you start piling on excuses such as “I was having a bad day” or “I just broke up with my girlfriend.” The last sentence actually came straight out of the mouth of a server in a restaurant.
  5. Forget the blame game. It does not matter whose fault it was. It happened.
  6. Make amends. Do whatever you can do set things right. I recently sent one of my products to a customer. The item did not arrive on the day I promised, and I had an unhappy individual on my hands. To set things right, I said  I was sorry and would send a replacement overnight. There was a significant cost to me, but I won over a customer who has since come back to me for additional products or services.
  7. Don’t get defensive. Once you get your dander up, you are headed for trouble and will only make the situation worse. One of my favorite sayings is “Never argue with an idiot. Those watching may not be able to tell the difference.”
  8. Listen without interrupting. When customers get upset, they need to vent.  Often they require something to chew on and that may be you. Let them. You may learn something important from what they say.
  9. Finally, don’t go overboard and over-apologize. Make your first apology your last. Say what you need to say and do what you need to do to make things right, then move on. You will only make things  worse by excessively apologizing. As the saying goes, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

People can come up with any number of reasons not to apologize, but there are just as many for saying “I’m sorry.” Number one on that list is because it is the right thing to do. Not only that, it is good customer service which is good for business and business growth.

Photo from Savannah magazine
Photo from Savannah magazine

Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website,

Lydia Ramsey

Lydia Ramsey is a leading business etiquette and modern manners expert who offers seminars, keynote speeches, webinars and individual coaching. She works with corporations, associations, colleges and universities as well as individuals.

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