There’s no better test of a decent copywriter than a written apology.

Seriously, if you are thinking of hiring a business writer, this would be a GREAT test of the perfect person for your business.

All businesses make mistakes. We can’t be perfect. We can’t always mind read exactly what our customers are expecting us to deliver, and that expectation gap sometimes proves problematic. The occasional apology for messing up or for failing to deliver what was expected, is a necessary business evil. Just like the dreaded tax return.

There’s another reason why you should always apologise when you’ve made a mistake: because it’s the right thing to do. There is nothing worse than silence from a business that you KNOW has wronged you.

We’ve all heard bad apologies and know how they make us feel: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are sorry to announce that the 17.25 from Victoria will be delayed by approximately 35 minutes.” delivered in that flat, nasal monotone. Do you think Trevor the train announcer is REALLY sorry? Does this standard, perfunctory offering do anything like a good enough job of apologising for the fact that you are now not going to get home in time to read your kid’s bedtime story? No. Not on your nelly.

Even the mandatory refund that you can claim for a late train doesn’t make up for the lateness.

So, if it’s not cold, hard cash, what could make you feel better about losing an extra half an hour of precious time at home?

How about a free cup of tea while you’re waiting for the train to eventually trundle in?

Instead of that sad old sorry, how about hearing this: “Although the train is delayed, we’ve managed to scrabble together an extra 10 carriages so that every, single one of you poor sods will now at least get to sit down on our train, as we gently usher you back to your homestead. Again, we are SO sorry to have caused you any extra stress in your already chaotic life.”

I know. Pipe dreams. (Or, regarding the sitting down part, just everyday life if you happen to be German.)

So, how can you ensure you are making a good apology, the next time you need to ‘fess up to a customer? Well. There are two things to remember.

  • Don’t just trot out the same pre-written “we are sorry to announce….” bobbins, templatey apology. This just doesn’t wash. It’s not a good time for cut and paste. Write some heartfelt and original words. Let your customer know that you aren’t just sending the same old apology that you always send. Or (even worse) use the sorry message as an opportunity to get some additional market research out of your customer (I’m looking at YOU EasyJet). This will make your customer feel used, not valued. Any sniff of ‘standard’ text will make it perfectly obvious to your reader that you have made this apology many times before, and, who wants to buy something from someone who continually gets it wrong?
  • Offer something alongside your apology that will make your customer feel that you FEEL their pain. This might cost you I’m afraid. That free cup of tea on the concourse at Victoria would do the trick, apply that to your business. Come up with something that will smooth over the cracks. If you’ve caused stress, how about a stress-removing massage voucher? (Not to be done by you, find a professional.) If you’ve blighted someone’s day, send a bunch of flowers to reintroduce a little joy. If you’ve cost your customer money, send a gift voucher or give them your time. This way you are making the most of the disaster and getting an opportunity to reinforce the brand values of your business by impressing them.

Hopefully you don’t have to apologise much in your business. But, when you do, get it over and done with quickly, and do it well by following my tips for a sorry success. I KNOW you can do better than Trevor.