The Do’s and Dont’s of an Effective Business Apology [Members Only]

Have you ever had to say you’re sorry?

Sometimes it’s difficult to even when you’re in the wrong. From apologising to an employee you’ve overlooked to a customer who didn’t receive the experience you wish they’d had to a public relations stuff up, the need for a business apology is bound to happen. 

The airwaves and internet are flooded with half-hearted apologies. With the ease of communication and public access to a large platform, businesses are forced to apologise on a more regular basis because they’re hearing complaints in record numbers.

Before the internet, if you didn’t like something a business did you could write a letter or make a phone call. That complaint would be addressed by the complaint department or customer service on their schedule.

Today, you can take to social media and voice your complaint to thousands of people without contacting the business involved.

In light of the changing times and the fact that sooner or later you’ll likely be called upon to apologise, it’s essential you understand what goes into an effective business apology. The words I’m sorry simply aren’t enough.

Here’s what you need to add to them:

The 6 Elements of an Effective Business Apology

In 2016, psychological scientists Roy Lewicki (The Ohio State University), Beth Polin (Eastern Kentucky University), and Robert Lount Jr. (The Ohio State University) released findings on what made a convincing apology. 

Here’s what they found that made the apologist seem more sincere:

  1. Express regret
  2. Explain what went wrong
  3. Acknowledge responsibility
  4. Declare regret and promise it won’t happen again
  5. Offer repair
  6. Request forgiveness

Express regret

The initial part of your apology should contain what you’re sorry for.


Say something that covers the problem like:

I’m sorry your meal wasn’t up to our usual standards or

I’m sorry you missed your flight because of our negligence.


Shirk responsibility by putting it on them by saying:

 I’m sorry you felt this way.

Explain What Went Wrong

Restate the problem as you see it.


State the problem:

On Thursday, April 4th, our computer system was hacked.


Shirk responsibility by putting it on them by saying:

 I’m sorry you felt this way.

Acknowledge Responsibility

Talk about how it happened.


We didn’t expect the amount of web traffic for this online sale and our system wasn’t prepared to handle it.


Blame someone else, especially if it’s a management problem like…

Too many employees called out sick that day.

Declare Regret and Promise It Won’t Happen Again

Say you’re sorry and talk about how you will ensure this isn’t repeated in the future.


Going forward we will buy all of our produce at the local farmer’s market to ensure it’s fresh as we give back to the local economy.


Make empty promises or say things you don’t plan on implementing, especially if they are extreme. You could appear vindictive or crazy.

This is really unfortunate. We promise we will never do this again. In fact, we’re going to fire the whole department and every vendor we use. They never should have done this.

Offer Repair

State what you will give to them to make it right. This is not always a monetary reparation.


Because we take cybersecurity seriously, we are offering everyone affected free identity monitoring for two years.


Minimise their feelings by offering something that doesn’t fit the situation or making things overly complicated to receive the reparation.

Because of our mistake, we are giving you one free flight–up to 1000 travel miles–but first, you have to answer a 500-question survey, prove you have a passport, and give us the name of your first pet.

Request Forgiveness

Your business apology should always end with a call to action. In this case, your call to action should be that they forgive you and hopefully, will give you a second chance to earn their business back.


Please forgive our customer service fail. We know we can do better. Please give us a second chance to win you over again.


Push the blame on someone else.

 The employee who gave you the wrong answer has been terminated. Won’t you come back now?

If you own a business, it’s inevitable that at some point someone will become disenchanted with you, your service, or a decision that you made. When that happens, if you’re in the wrong, you’ll need to issue an apology. While you don’t need to include all 6 of these components that go into creating an effective apology, researchers found that the more of them you use, the more likely the customer is to accept the apology and do business with you in the future.