Three Reasons Why Apologizing to Your Customers Fails

Customer Service: Don't apologizeThanks to guest blogger, Elaine Fogel.

We’ve heard it before and we’ll hear it again. “I’m sorry, I apologize.” Most customer service training programs emphasize using these empathetic statements when appropriate.

Always apologize to customers when they complain. Oh, and sound like you actually mean it. In fact, practice making empathetic facial expressions in the mirror as you say it.


Saying sorry doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s just not enough. It’s a hollow rote response that’s bound to fail. Unless…you put some meat behind it! (Why do I use that metaphor when I’m vegan?)

If you want me to love your products, stop apologizing and make them better!

Here are the three reasons why apologies fail:

#1. Apologies have no meaning if products or services are poor. Apologizing cannot overcome badly made products or lackluster service no matter what you do.
#2. Apologies are hollow unless you demonstrate genuine empathy. In my experience, most reps say they’re sorry like they say, “hello.” It has no emotion in it. It’s a trained rote response. A seal could do a better job.
#3. Apologies are useless to customers unless you actually correct the problem immediately and it doesn’t happen again. Don’t make customers jump through hoops to rectify issues. Make it super easy for them.

Here’s a “real-life” example for you:

I purchased a small ASUS notebook in May, 2015 so hubby could use it while traveling. He used it during June and July and then it sat on a shelf. Until September.

I booted it up to update Windows and other software in anticipation of an upcoming trip. Lo and behold, the keyboard and touchpad weren’t recognized.

I called for support and the rep apologized profusely. Whoopie. Hubby used it for six weeks and he’s sorry? It never should have happened in the first place.

He gave me an RMA (return merchandise authorization) number and expected me to pay the return shipping cost. Forget it, I said. He capitulated to my insistent tone.

About two weeks later, the “repaired” notebook arrived. Of course, it had been factory reset so I had to reinstall the software.

As I was updating the virus software, it happened again. I rebooted and then couldn’t log in. The keyboard and touchpad weren’t recognized. Did they fix anything?

I called ASUS support again, but this time, the rep walked me through the re-installation of the affected drivers. When I had to reboot, he wouldn’t stay on the phone. Sorry, he said… he gave me a case number and told me to call back if it didn’t work.

Well, it worked, for about five minutes and then the same problem occurred. So, I called back. This time a female rep answered, apologized (again) and wanted to guide me through troubleshooting. By this time, I had spent the afternoon on this problem and had had enough. I wanted to send it back!

She asked to put me on hold, and after ten minutes, I realized that she wasn’t there. I hung up and called the number again, but couldn’t get through.

Customer service: love means never having to say you're sorry“Love means never having to say you’re sorry!” (Millennials and Gen Z: Google the movie, “Love Story.”)

Again, if you want me (or your other customers) to love your products, stop apologizing and make them better.

In my book, Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most For Small Business Success, I write:

“Customer complaints are gifts to your business. (Yes, you read that right.) Although the majority of customers will not take the time to voice their discontent, the ones who do can give you opportunities to investigate and identify where internal problems lie. The rest simply won’t come back and you won’t know why.”

In fact, before apologizing, thank them for bringing the matter to your attention. How else would you learn of these issues?

Behemoth international corporations have thousands of customer care employees to manage complaints. If yours is a smaller business or nonprofit organization, you have an advantage. You are closer to solutions and can empower employees to resolve issues independently. You can take a hands-on approach – IF you handle them correctly.

Have you had a frustrating customer experience in which apologies were hollow? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below because I’d love to hear from you. Thanks a million and here’s to your sweet success.

Elaine Fogel: Uncorked on MarketingAbout guest blogger Elaine Fogel: Elaine is a marketing, branding, and customer experience evangelist, professional speaker, and author of Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most For Small Business Success. People in 100+ countries regularly read her blog, Totally Uncorked on Marketing and her articles have appeared in many publications.

Debra Jason

Marketing & writing with heart, not hype at at The Write Direction
A recipient of the “Creative Person of the Year” award, Debra educates and empowers creative solopreneurs and enthusiastic business owners to create a lifestyle business that provides them with the flexibility, fun and freedom to do what they love. She also inspires you to communicate your marketing message in a way that captivates and converts your prospects into loyal, raving fans - even if you have been struggling with how to transform your ideas into words in the past.


  1. I live in the business to business selling world in a very competitive industry. We absolutely have to deliver what we say we are going to deliver. With all due respect, I can’t think of a single situation where thanking the customer for brining it to your attention will not come off as condescending. Just my opinion, but I can’t see how that could be delivered well. A better option is to listen and let the customer let all of it off their chest. Ask clarifying questions to be sure you have all the information. Then and only then tell them what you will do about it, but only if you have an answer. If you don’t, do not b.s. them. It’s ok to tell them you will get back to them, but make sure you do it immediately. There’s a lot more I could say, but the ‘thank you’ really stood out.

    • I like your reply, John. In fact, I describe the same process in my book: “9 Steps in Managing Customer Complaints.”

      Here’s number one:
      “When customers complain, first, listen attentively and do not interrupt. If customers are in front of you, establish eye contact, lean in, and genuinely show interest. You can occasionally nod your head or say something brief to encourage them to continue their

      If customers use e-mails or online chat to complain, use your judgment. If complaints are lengthy or more detailed, you’re better off asking if you can contact them on the telephone to assist them.”

      Number two:
      “After they finish, thank them for bringing the matter to your attention. How else would you learn of these issues?”

      I believe there’s a way of doing this that doesn’t sound condescending. When I’ve done this, I tell customers that I’m glad they didn’t ignore the issue and brought it to my attention. I want them to be totally pleased and I will do everything I can to rectify the situation.

      Thanks for weighing in, John!

  2. Elaine, had the same experience as yours back then. Customers are always right but doesn’t mean that the customer service rep is wrong always. It really depends on the situation and for me, the proper communication between customer and service rep should be clear so both sides know what to do and expect.

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