How to Apologize to Customers When You Mess up

Are you dealing with a situation in which you’ve got a customer super ticked off at you? Or maybe you’re worried that this customer is going to leave you.  Then stick with me until the end of this article, because I’m going to outline five steps that you can take when it comes to how to apologize to your customer for messing up.

By the end of this article, you’re going to have a five step method that you can start to use to start landing back on your feet, correcting course with your customer and ensuring that your customers are satisfied.

Step 1: Own up to your mistake ASAP.

The first thing you need to do is own up to your mistake ASAP. Take responsibility of what has happened and specifically outlined for your customer, what you’re doing right now to rectify the situation, as well as what you’re going to do in the future to prevent this from happening again.

A few years ago, we had a client that was going to use our site to run an assessment with all of their students across their district. So as a result, they were going to be thousands of students using our site. The only problem was that our site crashed that morning and coupled with that, our engineering team wasn’t quite yet into the office. And so I got an email that it went along the lines of, “Hey, Will, your site is down. I needed it up in the next hour or so. What do we need to do to make that happen?”

Immediately upon this happening, I owned up for the mistake that the site was down and it wasn’t functioning as is. And I also immediately called the client to try to understand specifically what the timelines were in terms of when he would absolutely need our site to be back up. The reason why I did this is because I needed to figure out who I needed to get in contact with as soon as possible in order to solve his problem.

And so once I knew that we had about an hour to an hour and a half before that assessment had to happen, I was immediately having everybody on my team, call every engineer on the team and essentially figuring out how to troubleshoot this issue and get the site back up.

It’s super important that as you’re communicating with your customer in these stressful moments, that you’re demonstrating to them, that you’re with them in this moment and that you’re looking to solve their problem for them because you guys messed up.

During this stressful time, I was staying in touch with this client every 15 to 30 minutes, either via email or on the phone in order to update him on that latest progress that we had taken to get our site back and running. As you may have noticed from my example here, I wanted to make sure that I also gave my client an opportunity to just simply share his feelings at that point in time.

Step 2: Make sure that you are actively listening to your customer

That leads us to step number two, which is make sure that you are actively listening to your customer as they share their concerns with you. It is completely within their right to be mad at you right now, because you’ve done something where your product or service isn’t delivering what they’ve paid for.

And so it’s time for you to take a step back and empathize with your customer and make a statement that essentially shows that you’re actively listening to them and working to address their problem. An easiest statement you can make is, I completely understand where you’re coming from and I want to make this right for you.

Another example is: You’re completely right to feel the way that you’re feeling right now. This should have never happened. Here’s what we’re going to do as a result of this, so that we can move forward.

These sorts of statements, essentially show your customer that you are listening to the fact that they are very frustrated right now, and that they can vent to you about the issues that they’re having with your service.

Some of your clients are going to be better at emotionally regulating themselves than others. So they might not actually get as visibly mad at you, but they will still be frustrated. So you want to take this time to make sure you’re listening and, and letting them process their feelings as well as begin and to move the ball forward in terms of what everyone’s going to do to fix the situation.

Step 3: Discuss alternative plans while resolving the issue.

That leads us to the third thing that you’re going to want to do, which is to discuss any alternative plans that could potentially help resolve the situation. As you probably notice from my story, as I started to listen to the client’s needs, what I found out was that, he had about an hour or so before he needed our site to be back up.

So the first thing that I wanted to figure out with him was, was there any way possible in which we could gain more time back in order to get more engineers on the problem?

And when I learned from him was that his assessment was actually going to have two parts. The first part was the online assessment, which was going to use our site whereas the second part was actually a paper test. And so from learning this piece of information, I was able to brainstorm with them that if we just simply swap the order of the exam, in which we first had the paper component, we could potentially buy the engineer’s about a half hour to 45 minutes of additional time to fix the site in time for the assessment.

Just as important as it is to apologize to your customer when you mess up, you also need to make sure that you are moving the ball forward like I mentioned, and starting to problem solve with them and be solutions-oriented towards specifically what their need is and how to meet that need.

We need to help everybody navigate through the situation and make the best of what we have. While also ensuring that expectations are super clear as to what we need to do next, as well as what our client needs do next in the situation.

Fortunately, flipping that assessment so that the paper component was first bought us enough time to actually get the site back up and running so their assessment could go originally as intended.

After hearing the story of how I pivoted with my customer, what’s a time that you had to pivot with the customer to make something right? What did you have to do? And why did you do what you guys decide to do?

Step 4: Execute the next steps that you have agreed upon.

The fourth step, when it comes to, to apologizing to your customer is just to simply execute the next steps that you guys have agreed upon. This is where you guys are going to team up together and actually execute the alternative plan that you’ve come up with in step number three.

Nowadays, it’s really common for people to feel like companies never really care about their customers. And so by you being there with them step by step, as you guys solve this situation, you’re showing them that you care about them a lot as a customer, and that you’re willing to go above the line of duty in order to solve and own up for your mistakes.

Step 5: Follow up and ensure your customer is satisfied.

The fifth step when it comes to apologizing to your customer, when you mess up is to make sure that you’re following up and making sure that they are satisfied. When the dust has settled and a few days or a week has passed since the event, it’s a good time for you to proactively reach back out to them and make sure that everything is okay with the client.

Hopefully by this point in time, you’ve solved the situation. Or if you haven’t yet, you are actively working to resolve the situation. If you think it’d be appropriate, you might find it helpful to write a handwritten note or to send over an apology email, or give you the small token of appreciation to just make up for the fact that your company let your customer down. Thank them for being super collaborative customers with you to come up with a solution and make sure that you leave a note that this incident happened in your CRM.

This is super important because whoever’s managing the customer success relationship, whether that’s yourself or somebody on your CS team, we’ll then be able to take appropriate action and act a little bit more delicately around this account for the remainder of its contract, which will then in turn, reduce your churn and the probability that this customer will leave you.

With these more sensitive clients where there’s been a point in the contract in which you’ve let them down, it can be really helpful to keep them in the loop about any new features that you think might give them more value to how they’re currently using your product or service or anything that you want to send them in terms of tokens of appreciation, discounts, promos, and offers.

Pretty much anything that you think could give them additional value than what they’re getting out of your product or service today, would help reduce the chances that they’re going to leave you at the end of your contract.

Big takeaways

There are two things that I want you to take away from this article.

  1. The first one is that when you mess up, make sure that you own up to your failure as quickly as possible. Fall on your sword and then start moving on.
  2. The second thing is make sure that you remain solutions-oriented. Don’t defend what happened, just accept that it happened and start moving forward. It’s super important that you do this so that you can begin to rebuild the trust that you’ve lost in this moment with your customer.

If you found this article helpful, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning about these five steps to take when apologizing to your customers for your mistakes.

I’ll catch you guys next time in which we’re going to go over three good times to upsell your customers.