Whether it’s a server outage, a delayed shipment, or a mistake in pricing, how you respond to a poor customer service experience can make or break a client’s relationship with your business.
I am the master of apologies.
I once wrote a mass email apologizing for a day-long server outage that—I kid you not—resulted in customers actually apologizing to me:
“No worries, Melissa, these things happen!”
“Not your fault, we’ve all been there!”
“Thanks for the update, all good!”
I can teach you my ways. Although, I won’t be able to bestow you with all my superpowers—my abilities mostly come from growing up in a family that uses guilt as a bargaining tactic—I wouldn’t put you through that.
But I can give you a template.
It’s proven to work and general enough to allow you to easily insert your own company’s details.
Apology email sample: A template you can send to customers immediately after a mistake
The following example is adapted from actual apologies I’ve sent on behalf of companies. I simplified it and included the full text so you can copy, paste, and edit it within your support inbox or email marketing platform.
After the sample, I’ll show you how to set up your apology email as an autoresponder or canned reply in your helpdesk software, as well as a mass email in your email marketing software.
Then, I’ll break down the five parts of a business apology email and tips for crafting each one.
Here’s the apology email sample:
And here’s a copy-and-paste version that you can use as a template:
An apology from [your business name]
Business apology email sample:
Hi [first name],
As you may already know, [insert problem and time period]. [Briefly explain expected outcome and actual outcome.]
It is completely unacceptable for [reiterate problem]. I’ve heard from customers who [three examples of how the problem affected your customers]; you depend on us to [goal of your product] and we hindered more than helped yesterday.
I want to apologize for the [problem] and, more importantly, I must apologize for the total failure to communicate this to you.
One of our company’s values is [core value or company mission] and we glaringly missed the mark yesterday. We are taking this incident very seriously and are making plans to ensure that it will never happen again.
To thank you for your patience, we will be giving [discount, coupon code, free item, etc. and time frame to use it]. And [something you’ve already done to make up for the problem: reimbursement, refund, etc].
If there is anything else our team can do to improve your experience, please don’t hesitate to reply to this email and ask!
[Your first name]
Depending on the resources available to your business, consider adding links to more robust documentation as well.
If you have a knowledge base (and if you don’t, get one with Groove!), you can write a complete breakdown of the incident and link to it from the email. Or you can link to certain articles that explain how to take any required next steps (like how to log out/in or refresh a cart).
For those with a blog, take the initiative to write a longer post detailing everything that happened and what you’ve done to fix it. You can link to the post within your email for customers who want more information.
Same goes for a status page. Provide customers with this resource to check on updates or the status of any remaining problems.
Social media pages can serve real-time updates as well. Let customers know if you’ll be posting to any accounts like Twitter or Facebook with incidents in the future.
How to set-up your apology email to customers in Groove and ConvertKit
For most situations, you’ll want to queue up your apology email in both your customer support inbox and your email marketing software.
Customers have likely already written into your support team inquiring about the issue. Your customer service team will need to respond to all of them. In addition to creating a reply for any follow-up questions.
Create a new canned reply in your shared inbox to reduce the effort of writing each email individually. Here’s how to do it in Groove:
Go to Settings > Conversations > Canned Replies:
Click +Add Canned Reply and then give your reply a title, select or create a new category, and then compose your response in the text box.
Then, when you hit a customer email regarding the incident, just insert this canned reply and edit certain fields to make it a more personal apology:
If you’re still in the middle of an incident, you may want to set up an auto-reply to bulk respond to every customer who emails you during this time.
This will ensure they know what’s going on and how it’s affecting their account. But you can still follow up with their particular inquiry afterwards if needed.
This email will automatically send to all new inquiries.
Once your inbox is properly set up, compose a mass email in your marketing platform to inform every customer, not just the ones who write in to support.
We use ConvertKit for email marketing software. We’ll set up a one-time email broadcast to all our customers using the copy from our template:
Make sure the reply-to email address is your customer support team so they can address lingering issues and report any new problems.
The five parts of a business apology email and how to write each one
Every element of your business apology email has the potential to bring you back into your customers’ graces. Or to push them further away.
Let’s break down the best way to write an apology email to your customers, piece by piece:
1. The subject line
Right away, you want customers to know what your email is about, in as few words and as clearly as possible.
The subject line serves two purposes:
- Deliver the most important message (if the customer never opens the email, what do you want them to come away with?)
- Make them want to open the email
Remember: The reason that we send an apology email in the first place is to reassure our customers that they can trust us.
Treat customers with respect, intelligence, and empathy to let them know you’re sending this email out of care, not obligation.
I tend to shy away from anything too gimmicky when it comes to apologies. Instead, try a subject line that’s both informative and compelling like:
- An apology from [business name]
- Action required: [steps to take]
- Status update on [product or problem]
2. The opener
Summarize the entire incident and resolution in one to two sentences. No need to get flowery or make excuses here. Just tell them what happened, when, and if/when it will be resolved.
I like to start mine with something like, “As you may already know,” or “Thanks for bringing this to our attention,” since most customers are usually aware of the problem. It acknowledges their support inquiries and doesn’t patronize.
Use specific time and date stamps when possible. It helps to contextualize problems, especially if they’re tech-related and hard to grasp.
The “expected vs actual outcome” format tends to work well with clients. Be clear about what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, and what caused the change.
3. The apology
Say it outright—“I apologize.” Take full responsibility, even if it wasn’t your fault.
Truthfully, you can always find something about a poor customer experience that was your fault.
In the template above, I mention: “I must apologize for the total failure to communicate this to you.”
This template was pulled from a server outage that I didn’t cause. But as the head of customer experience, I should’ve communicated better. And for that I sincerely apologized.
Treat your customers with respect. Do not make an empty apology. Find something you are at fault for and apologize for it.
Then, write a brief paragraph humanizing the entire ordeal:
- Provide examples of how the problem affected your customers and apologize for any inconvenience
- Show remorse for your failure so the customer feels compassion towards you
- Expose your learnings and action items so customers can rest assured that your business relationship will continue to grow
4. The body
Use the remainder of the email to explain further details and next steps.
Expand upon the summary in the opener to let curious customers know exactly what happened. And why. The transparency will help restore loyalty.
Clearly lay out next steps or action items for customers. Use bullet points or numbered lists to walk them through any necessary steps, like in this example:
Note the “why” explained in this example.
Clear communication and respect are so important in apologizing to customers. Talk to them as you would your colleagues, without cutting any corners.
5. The email signature
You might be surprised at how much the signature of your business apology email can impact its reception.
Ultimately, the signature reveals the voice and face your customer sees in their mind while reading.
Always, always, always! Send this email from one person.
It’s the easiest way to humanize a mass email. Consider sending it from a customer support manager they already know, or a marketing lead customers are familiar with from the blog, or from the founder to show the weight of the problem.
Again, not really the time to get cutesy. Keep it remorseful and formal, using sign-offs like:
- Sincerest apologies,
- Thank you,
Writing a business apology letter that inspires customer loyalty
Beyond happiness, these types of emails lend themselves to improve retention and churn metrics as well.
- Only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers complain; the rest churn
- 68% of those lost consumers never return
Get ahead of this mess by effectively apologizing for any problem your business causes for customers.
And if it’s a really good apology email, you might just win a customer for life. Or at least encourage them to use their apology coupon code without hesitation.