How to Write an Apology Letter to Customers That Wins Back Loyalty

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Customer Retention : 9 min read

How to Write an Apology Letter to Customers That Wins Back Loyalty

"Oops. My bad."

We all make mistakes: that’s a fact of life.

However, when your company makes a mistake, that has an impact on the future of your business.

But here’s the interesting thing: that impact can actually be positive.

Some of today’s biggest brands have gone through bad times. They’ve made mistakes that affected hundreds (if not thousands) of people.

Think about Samsung’s exploding phones, the massive data breach from Facebook, or Tylenol’s cyanide-laced pill scare from the 1980s. (Forgot about that one, didn’t you?)

But after these serious mistakes, how are companies like these still thriving?

Largely due to the way they handled themselves in response to the crisis.

Writing an apology letter to customers is never easy. It takes a certain amount of skill, both with words and with people.

And while there’s no exact formula to writing a successful apology letter, there are several things you can do to improve your letters—right now.

So, if your company needs to send an apology letter to customers, keep reading: we’re going to learn from good and bad examples of apology letters, plus dig into some useful templates that you can adapt and use to your customers.

Use these best practices for sending apology letters to customers:

1. Wait until you’re calm to write a response.

Hearing someone complain about you or your business is enough to get anyone riled up.

But we all know what happens when we respond in the heat of the moment to an angry customer’s scathing complaint.

That’s what happened to Chef Salvatore on Yelp. His response (read: rant) lasted a full 17 paragraphs, and while it may have been justified, it was definitely not the kind of response that will win him any business, even if the original customer complaint wasn’t valid.

Here’s a snippet:

bad response to a negative yelp review

The moral of the story is this: angry responses, even when justified, will only have a negative impact on your business.

Instead, make it a rule never to respond to a complaint while you’re upset. Remember that your response doesn’t just reflect on you as an individual: it is a representation of the personality and integrity of your brand.

Before sending your response, think: would you rather potential customers see your brand as rude and defensive, or as patient and accommodating?

2. Put yourself in their shoes to write a more genuine apology letter.

We’re all familiar with the bland non-apologies that many companies fall back on when they don’t feel like they were actually in the wrong.

A classic example of this is Dove’s response to uproar against an ad that appeared to show a black woman changing into a white woman by using Dove’s products:

dove apology response example

This was their response to complaints from people who viewed the ad as racially insensitive:

dove tweet apology example

This response showed no real remorse from the company, and did nothing to satisfy the needs of those who were offended by the ad.

Judging from the responses to this tweet, it seems Dove lost even more business because of this failed attempt at an apology letter to customers.

How can you avoid making the same mistake?

Before writing your apology letter, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Try to understand their point of view, and how your business made them feel. Understanding the emotional side of what happened will help you craft a more genuine apology letter. (And actually saying you’re sorry helps—you’d be surprised at the lengths that many companies go to in order to avoid saying those two little words.)

This is exactly what JetBlue did. When a severe ice storm caused them to ground flights, hundreds of people were left stranded.

In part, JetBlue’s apology letter read:

jetblue apology response example

Here, JetBlue does an excellent job of putting themselves in the shoes of their passengers who were stranded. They showed that they understood why customers were upset, and how others (such as family, friends, and colleagues) were also affected.

Even though the issue wasn’t entirely JetBlue’s fault (no one can control the weather) they did an excellent job of providing a genuine apology to their customers.

3. Own up to your mistakes and explain what went wrong.

It’s easy for us to shift blame to others for our mistakes.

But that’s a cheap way to get out of an apology—and isn’t a satisfactory response to your customers.

Instead, own up to your mistakes. That will show your brand is honest, which gives customers reason to trust you in spite of your mistakes.

One way to do this is to give customers the explanation they deserve.

When the wrong titles were announced during the Oscar awards ceremony, PWC released a statement that owned up to the mistake and gave a clear explanation:

pwc apology response example

True, getting the wrong envelope may seem like a silly mistake. But PWC does a great job of explaining the situation and owning up to their mistake.

4. Offer to repair or repay.

When your business makes a mistake, your customers could lose out on money, time, and more.

So, your apology letter to customers needs to clearly explain how you plan to remedy the situation.

Essentially, you need to find a way to replace what was lost. Did your customers lose money because their purchase didn’t get fulfilled? Offer a refund. Did they waste time because of an issue with your software? Give them options to reach their goals on time.

Caskers, a craft and rare spirits brand, did a great job of this with their apology email:

caskers apology response example

In this email, Caskers acknowledges their mistake, makes light of the situation, and gives two different discount codes to make up for the error.

They even own up to the fact that they’re basically buying their way out of an apology with the line: “Apologies with a dollar sign attached are always better.” Honest and funny. I think almost anyone can agree with that!

Caskers wins back customer loyalty by apologizing and making amends for their error. You can do the same by going above and beyond to repair the damage from your mistake.

5. Show how you plan to resolve the problem, and keep customers informed.

Another essential part of your apology letter to customers involves telling them how you plan to move forward.

When it comes to serious issues that affect many customers, people will only stay with your brand if they trust that you’ll resolve the issue, and it won’t happen again.

Remember how JetBlue showed us what it means to step into the shoes of your customers? That same apology letter also did a great job explaining their plan to resolve the problem and avoid a repeat of the situation:

jetblue ceo apology response example

This letter explains in clear language how the company is working to make sure this never happens again. That gives JetBlue’s customers confidence in the company, meaning they can start to rebuild their trust.

You can do the same by transparently explaining what your company will do to resolve the problems that affected your customers.

Once you’ve followed through with your plan, keep your customers informed. Send another letter to let them know what you’ve been doing, and the results of your work. This shows that what you said in your apology letter wasn’t just talk: you’ve put that talk into action.

6. Use a little bit of humor to lighten the mood when appropriate.

When the issue isn’t very serious, using a bit of humor can diffuse a tense situation and calm an angry customer.

However, you need to be careful to read the room: when emotions are running too hot, using humor can be a bad thing.

Simple annoyances such as delayed shipping or a damaged product will cause frustration, but a humorous response that still validates the customer’s feelings and issue can calm the situation.

On the other hand, when a serious mistake has been made (such as a data breach), that’s not the time to use humor.

To see how humor can be used appropriately, check out how smoothie brand Innocent Drinks’ apology letter in response to a customer complaint:

innocent drinks apology response example

This apology letter is short, genuine, and makes you laugh. Innocent was able to read the room perfectly, and knew that adding a couple of funny lines would work to lighten the mood.

So, be careful to judge your audience. Humor can be a powerful tool to diffuse a tense situation, but should be used with caution.

When done right, getting a laugh from your apology letter is a great way to win back some love from your customers.

7. Build apology letter templates that your customer service team can use.

It’s true that more serious or widespread issues may need specific and personal responses. Other times, though, the issue is a somewhat common, minor problem.

In those cases, you can save time for your team by creating apology letter templates that your reps can build off of.

With well-thought-out apology letter templates, you’ll ensure a consistent voice and tone in each letter, minimize defensiveness, and help your team be cordial and friendly.

That being said, creating templates doesn’t mean your team will respond the same to each complaint. So, set ground rules that ensure each apology letter is customized.

Using a CRM, you can create email templates for your customer support team to use. Each template includes customizable fields, allowing you to adapt them for a specific purpose. Here’s how it looks in Copper:

email templates in copper crm
An example of how to create an apology template with custom fields in Copper.

Once your templates are created, the team can send them using the web app, or Copper’s Chrome extension.

Pro-tip 👇

🚀 your productivity

Learn about the different tasks a CRM can help you do more efficiently with this free handbook.

Now, you might need some ideas to create your own templates. Here are a few.

Try these templates to send genuine apology letters to customers:

Example 1: An order is damaged or isn’t working properly.

Whether it’s a physical product that was damaged on arrival or a software that just isn’t cooperating, the customer obviously isn’t getting what he paid for.

In these situations, it’s especially important to acknowledge the frustration that your customer has faced, and explain how you plan to remedy the situation.

  • For a physical product that was damaged, try this template:

Subject: Your replacement [product] is on its way!

Dear [Name],

We’re so sorry to hear your [product] didn’t get to you in one piece. We know that’s not what you were expecting when you opened the box, and we want to do everything we can to make up for that frustration.

Right now, our team is packing up a brand new [product] and getting it out the door. You’ll have it in your hands by tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy a 15% discount on your next purchase!

Please let us know if there’s anything else we can do to make up for this mistake!

Best,

[Name]

  • If the problem is with a digital product, such as a software, you can try using this template:

Subject: Something went wrong (but we’re on it!)

Dear [Name],

We’re so sorry about the issues you’ve been having with [product]. We know how frustrating it is when technical issues prevent you from getting your work done.

We’ve been experiencing some glitches with [product] because [explanation].

But that’s no excuse for the problems you’ve been having. We’re truly sorry for the time and energy this has cost you.

Our team is focused on fixing this problem as soon as possible. We’ll let you know as soon as the issue is resolved.

In the meantime, we’re going to give you back this month’s subscription cost.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

[Name]


Example 2: There’s an issue with the bill.

Mistakes happen, and sometimes a customer can get charged too much by accident. Obviously, this is a delicate situation that could breed distrust. That’s why it’s important to remedy the situation as quickly as possible.

  • Here’s an idea of what you could say if a customer gets overcharged:

Subject: You were right, we messed up the bill. Sorry! 😢

Dear [Name],

We’re so sorry about the issues with your bill for [purchase]. You’re right: you were accidentally charged twice.

This is a terrible mistake caused by a glitch in our billing system, and we’re currently looking into how this could have happened. As soon as we find the bug in our system, we’re going to squash it!

By the end of today, you should see [amount] credited back to your credit card. If you don’t see anything by 5:00 PM, feel free to give us a call at [phone number].

Getting overcharged is a stressful and frustrating ordeal, and we’re so sorry to have put you through that. To show you we mean it, we’re throwing in an extra $50 for a nice, relaxing dinner (or however you like to unwind).

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to get in contact!

Sincerely,

[Name]


Example 3: A customer complained about a bad experience.

We all have our moments, and unfortunately our customers sometimes get the brunt of an employee’s bad day.

Other times, though, the customer is overreacting and exaggerating the situation.

  • Whether or not it’s your company’s fault, when a customer complains about a bad experience, it’s essential to respond quickly and politely.

Subject: We’re so sorry, that wasn’t cool.

Dear [Name],

We were so sorry to hear about the bad experience you had when talking with our customer service department. First and foremost, we want to say how deeply sorry we are for the stress this experience caused you.

Our customer service reps have all been trained on how to interact with customers. However, after this experience, we’ve decided to redesign our training program. We’ll be sending our entire customer service team back through the training to make sure that this won't happen again.

To make it up to you, we’d like to offer you a [free gift]. We hope this experience doesn’t tarnish your good opinion of us and that you come back again soon!

If there’s anything else we can do, please get in touch at [email].

Best,

[Name]


Example 4: There’s a widespread issue.

Product recalls, data breaches, and outages: these are some of the widespread issues that even large companies have had to apologize for in recent years.

  • Obviously, your company will need to customize a mass apology letter to customers in this situation, but here’s a template that can help you get started:

Subject: Please accept our deepest apologies.

Dear [Name],

[First paragraph should explain the issue, when it happened, and how it occurred.]

Our company aims to offer the best possible service to our customers, and we know we’ve let you down. We hope you can accept our sincere apologies.

What we care about most at this moment is getting this issue resolved. That’s why we’re implementing a new program of [explain plan to fix the problem].

We understand the anxiety and frustration this issue has caused you, and we know many of you have lost time and money because of it. That’s why we’d like to offer you [compensation].

Our goal now is to regain your trust: but we understand we have to earn it. We’ll keep you informed of how our new initiatives progress, and you’ll be with us each step of the way as we resolve this issue and repair the damage it caused.

Today we have not lived up to the standards we set for ourselves here at [company], and for that we are truly sorry. If you have any questions, please get in contact with us at [email/phone].

Sincerely,

[Name]

Pro-tip: When there’s a widespread issue that seriously affects your customers, a letter from Joe in customer service just isn’t going to cut it. If you want to win back the trust of your customers with an apology letter, you need to represent the whole company. That’s why, for these types of apology letters, it’s best to have them come directly from the CEO.

Send an apology letter to customers that hits the mark and satisfies their needs.

When we’ve been wronged, we lose confidence in the one who wronged us. It can take time to regain that trust, but it’s not impossible.

How you word your apology letters to customers has a huge impact on whether or not those customers will come back to you.

When done correctly, with skill and grace, you can turn a negative situation into a win for your brand and regain the trust of your customers.

Not all mistakes have to end in tragedy. Use these best practices and templates to craft genuine apology letters that satisfy the needs of your customers.