Stop apologizing to your customers. Start advocating.

Sara Yonker

Should a customer service agent apologize when things go wrong? Here’s what our research found about what happens every time an agent says “I’m sorry.”

Your customer calls, irate about an overcharge on their account. Your instincts kick in, and without a second’s pause, you say “I’m sorry.”

When things go wrong for customers, our gut tells us to apologize to diffuse the situation. 

I’m sorry this happened.

I apologize for the delay.

We regret to inform you…

The truth is, companies apologize a lot – sometimes for things they had nothing to do with.

However, we recently uncovered new findings that suggest that customer service apologies and other similar statements like it can actually damage your overall customer experience. 

This is especially true when we evaluated the compounding effect of apologies. Once an agent apologizes, they tend to keep apologizing for the duration of a conversation. It turns a customer service call into an effort to calm someone down instead of an arrangement to fix a problem. 

Do customers want you to apologize?

Customers want to feel like you hear their concerns and will address their problems (especially unhappy customers). However, you can do that without issuing an empty apology that may just frustrate them further. 

Above all, our research proves that customers want an effortless experience. They’d prefer if they never had to call customer service in the first place.

Once something happens that they need to resolve, you’ve already asked them to put forth some effort – they have to call you, may have waited on hold or been transferred, perhaps have to look up an account number, and explain their situation. 

The ensuing interaction needs to be as effortless as possible. That’s why Tethr created its AI-powered platform that measures customer effort for every conversation. The lower the effort, the better for your customers. 

Some customers may deserve an apology. However, the data from our analysis found that apologies without action increase customer effort.

In fact, we found that every time an agent apologizes, it causes the customer effort score to drop. Based on millions of conversations we analyzed, once agents start apologizing, they often keep doing so in a single conversation. 

If you’re going to apologize, do so once you’ve already taken immediate action to resolve the situation. 

Should you apologize to customers?

Instead of apologizing to upset customers, you should remain calm and respond by telling them what actions you’re taking to fix the problem. We call these action-focused statements advocacy statements. 

These phrases have the power to transform you from someone who is sorry something happened to a customer advocate –  someone who can make their problem go away.

Swapping empty apologies for customer advocacy language

  • Instead of “I’m sorry for your wait” say “Thank you for staying on the line, let me look into your account”
  • Instead of “I’m sorry that happened” say “I will check what I can do” 
  • Instead of “I’m sorry you’re upset” say “I’ll make sure this gets resolved”
  • Instead of “I apologize for the inconveniences” say  “I can take care of this for you”

Want to read the full research about empathy and apologies in customer service? Download a copy of the ebook.

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