Saying you are Sorry


Sometimes, in business and in life, we make mistakes and need to apologize.  I have written several articles in this blog on how to effectively say you are sorry. I found this interesting article called The Science of Effective Apologies by Guy Winch, Ph.D. which has some research behind it.

According to the scientific research by Ryan Fehr and Michele J. Gelfand of the University of Maryland, the way you apologize depends on the nature of the relationship you have with the other party.

Three components of an apology:

1. Expressions of Empathy

2. Offers of Compensation

3. Acknowledgment that certain rules or social norms were violated

Relationships determines what to emphasize

According to Guy Winch’s article, here are the ways one conducts oneself when saying you are sorry on a personal level

1 When apologizing to a spouse or close family member, emphasize the ’empathy’ component.

2. When apologizing to a fellow worker or business associate, emphasize the ‘offer of compensation’ component.

3. When apologizing to a friend, emphasize the violation of ‘social norms’ component.

4. If you get the apology wrong, it is appropriate and desirable to redo it.

5.  When an apology needs to be public, as in the case of Toyota, or Tiger Woods, it is important to address the apology to those who were harmed in addition to the general public.

Application to Business:

There are additional components, I believe, when this is a business to business or business to consumer problem.

1. The apology needs to come from the leader of the organization or business.

2. It is important to be perceived as sincere, unlike BP CEO Tony Hayward who commented that  he wanted his life back

3. Sometimes compensation is not what the customer is seeking. They are looking for a timely resolution to their problem. It is important to understand what collateral the customer considers valuable in the resolution of a problem and respond with that kind of collateral. In other words, what are the customer’s conditions of satisfaction?

4. In business, if the problem affects multiple customers, as in the case of Toyota or BP, it is important for the firm to address what they are doing to fix the existing problem and prevent it from recurring in the future.

5. For enduring problems, progress updates to customers are needed to demonstrate that improvements promised have been implemented.


While there is some interesting psychological basis for how to effectively apologize on a personal level, businesses need to address more issues in their attempts to make amends with their customers.

What is your opinion? Leave your comments below.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

One Response to “Customer Satisfaction and The Science of Effective Apologies”

  1. Guy Winch Ph.D. Says:

    You added excellent points for business applications! Your readers might also be interested in some soft-skills pointers I suggest here: Does Your Company Know How to Apologize Effectively?
    Thanks for the mention and for your great ideas!
    Guy Winch Ph.D.

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