Apologize To Customers When You Screw Up

Last Updated Apr 8, 2009 9:21 AM EDT

Do you apologize to customers when you or your staff does them wrong? Or do you default to the Legal Shuffle, mincing words and sidestepping responsibility to avoid the dreaded "liability" should a court case come to fruition.

As Harvard Business Publishing blogger Peter Bregman points out, a simple apology probably keeps you out of more courtrooms than the other way around.
"Apologies work. Real, heartfelt empathy between one person and another diffuses anger and builds relationships. Defensiveness and resistance to admit mistakes creates anger."
Recall back to your last bad customer experience -- that time in a store or waiting room when you were steaming like an overdone pot roast -- and think what a sincere apology could have done to calm you down, maybe even build some loyalty.

Free up your own employees to ask forgiveness and pledge better service when a customer has suffered.

(Sorry image by Spud Murphy, CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.