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Brendon Cappelletti


Specalist Trainer/Facilitator

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To apologise or not?


I am building a workshop on resolving complaints and have come across a difference of opinion in relation to how to do this.

One school of thought is to apologise, not to accept blame, but to show empathy.

The other opinion of this is to stay away from the apology to minimise risk to the company.

I have been involved in a workshop that used the first technique and fond that when I was the customer with the complaint and the agent apologised e.g. "I am sorry that you feel that way" it difused a lot of the emotion I was feeling (yes even in a role play).

I am keen to hear others view on this and what i can learn from your valuable experience.



13 Responses

  1. my opinion….

    Hi Brendon

    As I understand it the "never say "sorry" approach" was born of the opinion that the word "sorry" implied acceptance of complete responsibility and therefore opened the sayer to demands for compensation.  This Apparently came from the motor insurance business.  Hence the "mealy mouthed" approach; "I’m sorry you feel this way" which is clearly not an apology for the incident but for the reaction of the alleged "victim".  I use the phrase "mealy mouthed here because on one occasion when I made a complain the emphasis was so very clearly put on the "feel this way" that I asked the person what they meant and was rather condescendingly told that "we accept absolutely no responsibility whatsoever as is clearly stated in Para 4.c.ii.2 of subclause ZZa.i of our terms and conditions which are clearly posted in the basement of the local office behind the door marked "Beware of the Leopard"…..needless to say in this instance the "apology" was more of a goad than a calming activity.

    In reality I think many people (myself included) are often happy with no more than the word "sorry" when we make a complaint….I’m not angling for mass compensation, I don’t want someone sacked, I just want three things; a) some empathy, b) it put right and c) to see that you have made some effort to stop it happening again.  A large proportion of complaints arise because of simple, avoidable errors for which responsibility should be accepted; "We lost your file, sorry", "We accepted your order but we’ve found that we are out of stock, sorry" or even "We forgot to tighten the sump plug on your car and hence your engine blew up, sorry"

    On the other hand a refusal to accept responsibility for what is clearly an error will goad many people into more serious action…..which lawyers love!

    I hope this helps

    Rus Slater

    PS are you familiar with the "complaint as a gift" approach?

  2. I would want an apology

    I completely agree with Russ. An apology doesn’t mean that you accept responsibility for what has happened, but it does show the customer that you’re not going to take it personally and start arguing (the first 2 deadly sins!)

    So "I’m sorry you’re not satisfied with our service" or "I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your meal" can sometimes be all that’s required.

    As a customer, I find it’s the thing that’s most missed out if I complain and it’s the thing I would most value.


  3. Saying “Sorry”

    I’m with all of you – saying Sorry in this way, is really important. I, too, as a customer want the empathy and understanding and the problem corrected. As ever, it is about using the right words, said in the right way.


  4. Saying Sorry

    I agree with what everone else has said.  Someone saying sorry is very important…………………..but only if they mean what they say.

    An insincere apology is as much of a red rag to a bull as the "I’m sorry you feel this way" response.

  5. We should apologise

    I’ve been in Service Management for over 17 years. My experience has shown me that an apology will ALWAYS make the difference between just being a COMPANY OR VENDOR to the customer and being a TRUE PARTNER. TRUE PARTNERS apologise, and will therefore always have a longer relationship with their customers. Their customers are more likely to forgive and allow for recovery versus leaving to a competitor.

    Question is, do you want to be a partner to your customers or just another expendable vendor?

    P.S. Trainingzone has great stuff ! 

  6. in addition to me earlier comment…..


    Depending on when the complaint is made…..

    I have just made a complaint to HDNL; that’s the Home Delivery Network Ltd, a courier company that is very big and upon whom many of us may be relying for Christmas presents.  I bought a 48 hour delivery but it has taken eight days to travel the 109 miles required.  In fact it sat untouched for 48 hours is one depot alone.  I was contacting the company since the 48 hours was up but although they could see where my parcel was and they apologised  for the obvious delay that they couldn’t explain, neither could they actually do anything about it.   In this instance it was a "sorry, but there is nothing that can be done, you’ll just have to wait"….and that ‘sorry’, no matter how sincerely meant, is completely worthless!  Especially when the email address they gave me to lodge a complaint (I’d already spent over 30 minutes at my expense on the phone) is actually unregistered and unrecognised and the telephone number that is published on the web has been disconnected!

    BTW this isn’t a fly-night-little outfit, they are the main suppliers to Amazon!

    There, I’ve hijacked this thread to warn people about a rogue operator!






  7. Apologies

    This isn’t just an apology…it’s a Royal Caribbean Apology! How about this for customer sevice…


    "The cruise line also vowed to refund all passengers as well as offering on-board credit, seen as a generous move particularly because the incident happened so late in the sailing"


    I certainly agree that the apology should not only be sincere, but be accompanied with viable solutions to the issue. Often times, the front line "Incident Manager" is not prepared to actually address the issue but just take the complaint. 

    We all know mistakesor mishaps happen, because we have ALL made them. When there seems that no solution will do (customer needed something at a certain time, and that time passed), "sorry" won’t fix THAT issue, but the FOLLOW-UP to THAT sorry may go a long way for future business.

    Back to my point, if a company can offer a sincere apology and back it up with solutions that meet customer’s satisfaction, there will be opportunity to grow and become better, best the company of choice.


    As a customer, there’s nothing worse for me than no acknowledgement of my issue what so ever….NOTHING worse.

    Good reading ! 😉

  9. Apologies

    Hi Brendan,

    I work primarily with local authorities and for many years apology was confused with accepting liability. Thankfully the position was clarified by the Compensation Act and now most of our delegates no longer fear saying sorry. 

    The Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman has issued some useful guidance on how to apologise that might be relevant for yiour learners: 


    Hope that helps


  10. Apologies need action

    Hi Brendon,

    I agree with the above comments, saying sorry means accepting that the compaint is valid, but I find it useless when it’s not accompanied by some action to demonstrate that the company truly values your custom. (I’m a little bit tired of phrases like "I’m sorry" "I hear what you’re saying" "I know how you feel" when it is clear that the customer service representative hasn’t really understood my problem or is willing (or has the authority) to do anything about it.)

    There are ways of resolving a complaint without accepting complete responsibility – many years ago I bought a laptop from Dell and then, to be concise with this example, the courier company really messed up and delivery took way to long and was far from hassle-free. I wrote Dell a letter and they gave me £100 back in compensation – they didn’t take responsibility for the bad service but they did take responsibility for my customer experience with Dell.

    I suppose the first step in resolving a complaint is to understand: what the problem is and see what the customer might want you to do about it to return to you. And take the complaint as an opportunity to learn something about the business.

    Have fun with the course,


  11. A complaint is a gift book summary

    Brendon – and others.

    An interesting debate – and one I encounter a lot when working on service recovery isues.

    My contribution is to direct anyone interested to download a summary of ‘A complaint is a gift’, one of 30 summaries on my website

    Keep it rolling…

    Andrew Gibbons 

  12. Social Media


    I have come across an article that might be of interest – it relates responding to complaints and the role that social media might play and how the whole exercise can affect the brand.

    It’s in this month’s HBR, (you can access it through the CIPD website library) "One thing you must get right when building a brand".


  13. Thank You

    Hi All

    Thank you very much for clarifying what I thought was an ambiguous question.

    The responses clearly advocate the need to apologise with sincerity and to also take action to rectify the issue with speed.

    The third stage is to review the process that led to the complaint.

    I am confident that we need to take responsibility to resolve the situation and that the customer has every right to bring this to our attention. We MUST apologise and even thank them for giving us the opportunity to fix things for them and other customers.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New year!

    P.S. I am sorry for my previous spelling mistakes and have made sure there are none to be found in this posting 😉


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Brendon Cappelletti

Specalist Trainer/Facilitator

Read more from Brendon Cappelletti

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