Handling complaints – how to write an apology letter

Man handling complaints by phone
Whether or not your role involves handling complaints, you’ll know that in business things sometimes go wrong. And if you accept that you are at fault, it pays to apologise.

Handling complaints well often creates more customer loyalty. I recently received a very sincere apology letter from an internet retailer after an order failed to arrive. I was so impressed with their response I felt warmer towards them than if they’d delivered on time in the first place.

So complaints are an opportunity to impress your customers – but only if you handle them well. Follow these steps to do just that.

1. Say sorry

Don’t forget to apologise. Often this, together with an accurate acknowledgment of the complaint, will be enough to satisfy a disappointed customer.

2. Summarise and empathise

In your first paragraph state your understanding of the complaint as clearly as possible, and empathise with how the customer feels. For example, ‘I am sorry that we did not despatch your order in line with our delivery promise. I fully understand your disappointment when it did not arrive in time for your mother’s birthday.’

3. Make it personal

Don’t be afraid to address the customer directly, using personal pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘you’. This assures the reader that you are taking ownership of the problem, and are not hiding behind a faceless corporation.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. If your order hasn’t shown up, do you want to hear some vacuous statement about how committed the company is to excellence? Probably not.

4. Tell the customer what you’re going to do, and when

Your sincerity will be self-evident if you act on the complaint. Again, make it personal and state what is going to happen – even if you aren’t offering compensation. For example, ‘I have told our warehouse manager about your complaint, and he is now reviewing the processes to make sure this does not happen again.’

5. Say thank you

A complaint is a gift. Think about it – companies spend thousands of pounds every year on research to find out what their customers think of them. A complaint is free market research, and the customer has gone out of their way to tell you what hundreds more may be thinking. A simple ‘thank you for bringing this to my attention” is fine.

Finally, read your letter and ask yourself – if you were the customer, how would you feel reading it? If the answer is less than positive, go back to point one and start again.


PS If you want to learn more about handling complaints by letter, email and phone, check out my Handling Complaints & Enquiries course.


This entry was posted in Business Writing, Customer service, Handling complaints, Letter writing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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