The Corporate Apology: How to Apologize In 5 Easy Steps

Successful African-American Businessman

You probably remember the story about dozens of JetBlue Airlines’ passengers being stranded for more than 10 hours on the tarmac without taking off. Would you believe that JetBlue still managed to get the JD Power & Associates Award for #1 Customer Satisfaction for the airline industry for that year?

How did they do it? They apologized outright to customers after the traumatic event. And here’s how they did it:

 “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.”

A lot of companies are afraid to apologize because they think an apology assumes responsibility or that it may put the company at risk for liability. And I think this is a huge mistake.

The JetBlue example assumes total responsibility, holding nothing back. Look at how JetBlue goes on with their apology:

“Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience that we caused. This is especially saddening because JetBlue was founded on the promise of bringing humanity back to air travel and making the experience of flying happier and easier for everyone who chooses to fly with us. We know we failed to deliver on this promise last week.”

JetBlue’s apology acknowledges their passengers’ “pain,” assumes accountability, conveys sincere concern, and the apology is direct. Most companies are too cautious to pull off an apology like this. Maybe the willingness to offer a genuine, bold apology after a service mishap is part of the reason JetBlue has topped the JD Power rankings for best in customer service for four consecutive years.

If your goal is to restore customer confidence and retain more customers, you need to apologize to customers in the wake of any problem, regardless of fault. When you do, you create emotional bonds with customers and build and strengthen customer loyalty.

Following are the 5 simple steps to apologizing to customers.

1. Outright apology

Start out with a clear and direct apology. “We are sorry and embarrassed. But most of all, we are deeply sorry.”

2. Explain what happened and why

A fundamental, but often overlooked element of customer recovery is to provide an explanation for how or why the problem occurred. Taking the time to explain to a customer what might have caused the problem helps organizations re-establish trust. Here’s how Jet blue described what happened in their apology letter:

  “The storm disrupted the movement of aircraft, and, more importantly, disrupted the movement of JetBlue’s pilot and inflight crewmembers who were depending on those planes to get them to the airports where they were scheduled to serve you. With the busy President’s Day weekend upon us, rebooking opportunities were scarce and hold times at 1-800-JETBLUE were unusually long or not even available, further hindering our recovery efforts.”


3. Acknowledge the customer’s “pain”

Make an empathetic statement that responds to the customer’s emotions. JetBlue did it this way:

“Words cannot express how truly sorry we are for the anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience that you, your family, friends and colleagues experienced.”


4. Explain steps you’re taking to minimize problems going forward

In cases where the problem was apparently the fault of the company or one of your suppliers, you owe it to your customers to tell them what you plan to do to ensure they don’t end up in the same situation again. JetBlue’s explanation is textbook perfect:

 “We have begun putting a comprehensive plan in place to provide better and more timely information to you, more tools and resources for our crewmembers and improved procedures for handling operational difficulties. Most importantly, we have published the JetBlue Airways Customer Bill of Rights – our official commitment to you of how we will handle operational interruptions going forward – including details of compensation. We invite you to learn more at”


5. Ask for forgiveness

Make a request for your customer’s continued business. You might do it like this:

“You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week, and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us.”

Apologize to customers using these 5 field-tested and proven steps, and you’ll ultimately restore customer confidence in your company after even the worst has happened.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.