Probably the most important key to providing top-notch customer support is empathy. What better way to empathize than to acknowledge and to accept responsibility when your customer has been let down? You guessed it: apologizing.

1) Validation

I'm sorryMake sure to apply this empathy during the act of apologizing by showing that you really understand how and why this is affecting them. Validate and acknowledge that something is a real problem. Probably the worst example of an apology is “I’m sorry that you feel that way” or “I’m sorry that you think I’m not being clear.” Simply put, there is no “you” in apology. A far better way to phrase would be “I’m sorry WE caused this frustration,” or simply “I’m sorry for the trouble.” Take responsibility.

2) Explanation

Just as important is to explain what happened. This not only shows that you truly understand how and why something is a problem, but it also builds trust and transparency. The cherry on top is then to be equally forthcoming about what is being done to resolve the issue. As a customer, when I’m the one having a problem, empathy only goes so far – I want to know if there is a solution, and I want to be connected to that solution. You can even take the extra step of mentioning the names of the people working to fix the issue, which will further humanize the support experience and help the customer feel especially connected. (Thanks to Daniel Slater of GuildLaunch for this tip!)

3) Appreciation

Another way to show that you care is to thank them for using the product. In fact, I will often do this first – showing appreciation for not only the customer’s problem, but also for the person herself, might diffuse the negative feelings by mixing in some positive ones.

4) Reparation

An important part of an apology is making reparations, but maybe not in the way you’d normally think. Throwing money at the problem can at times be appropriate, but can also cheapen the gesture (getting money for your birthday is great but also somewhat impersonal – wouldn’t it be better if you got a gift that someone took the time to pick out?). This might be an offer for some personalized attention (a demo, a consult, a phone call) or perhaps simply an overture to “let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to help.”

5) Verification

The apology should invite a response, such as “let me know if you have any questions about what happened here” or perhaps “let me know if this was solved to your satisfaction, and if not, what more can we do?” This makes the customer feel involved and respected – and possibly even part of the solution – and assures him that we’ll here for him and are not going anywhere, even after it’s resolved.

we apologize for any inconvenienceLastly, a word on style. If you’re trying to humanize the interaction, then sound like a human! A cliched sentence like “sorry for the inconvenience” will likely just add fuel to the fire (forgive the cliche). Personalizing your response will go a long way towards establishing a connection. But avoid being too cute – you want to empathize, not trivialize.

Follow most of these steps, and you might find that your relationship with your customer has actually strengthened as a result. We all make mistakes – maybe you will even look forward to the next problem, and see it as an opportunity to show how supportive you can be!

“Sorry” photo courtesy of Butupa