In my role as Customer Support Manager at an enterprise-level SaaS company, I’ve had to apologize a lot over the years. That’s ok of course; de-escalating tough situations is part of the job. I like to joke that someday I’m going to write a book titled 1,001 Ways to Say, “I’m Sorry”.
In a professional setting, a well-executed apology can disarm even the most tense situations. But what does a good apology look like? According to Psychology Today, a good apology has six important elements (with #3 being the most important):
- Expression of regret
- Explanation of what went wrong
- Acknowledgment of responsibility
- Declaration of repentance
- Offer of repair
- Request for forgiveness
I’m inclined to agree with this assessment, particularly if the apology is in writing. Here’s an example of an apology that I sent in response to a customer email about a major support issue (names and circumstances have been changed to protect…everyone). I don’t follow the Psychology Today formula exactly, but you will see that most of the elements are there:
Jennifer sent this ticket over to me so I can address what happened with your report last week. I’m so sorry this happened! The long and short of it is that we made a change that we expected to be completely invisible to customers and, as you know, it ended up being highly visible. The change was an upgrade to the underlying infrastructure that would allow us to capture more sophisticated logging when errors occur. The decision to deploy this change without notifying customers was ultimately my call, and clearly it was the wrong call. That won’t happen again. While prior notification would not have prevented the problem from occurring, it would have allowed your team to be on the lookout for issues and to more quickly correlate them to the change we made last Thursday.
The subsequent change made on Saturday night was a complete rollback of the work performed on Thursday. Moving forward, Engineering is working to understand what went wrong and ensure that no other issues will occur. Once we have that confirmation, we will schedule a maintenance window and notify all customers in advance.
I apologize for the trouble this caused you last week, Diane. I know you rely on these reports and that problems like this are hugely impactful to your institution. I can assure you, this was a valuable reminder of why it’s so vital to be careful with production changes and to err on the side of more communication than less. If you have any follow up questions or would like to discuss this further, please let me know.
Thanks so much,
Pretty good, right? Maybe I will write that book after all.