Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

It has been difficult to conduct business during the pandemic. Travel is curtailed. Clients and staff are working from home, relying on video technology. This has resulted in delays and unavailability of services. It’s also led to the need for some business apologies. Otherwise, what would we tell our clients?  

Research and communication experts tell us that the most important part of business apologies is an authentic and clear message. The apology must occur each time a client is impacted. In the capital equipment area impacts could be no technical response, no spare parts, delivery delays, late quotations, etc. We all know about these impacts and the telephone calls they can prompt. The first response to this call is the apology and “getting it right.”  

Let’s not take the easy way out and blame COVID-19. Everyone knows the difficulties, but if you blame the virus, the client’s will wonder why you haven’t found a way to meet their needs. At this point you’ve had more than one-year to figure it out. In the process of getting it right, let the client know what steps you took and what was successful or not. Knowing what caused the problem can be reassuring. At least, you will gain credibility from being honest.

Be Accountable in Business Apologies

With business apologies you also need to determine who is taking responsibility. The client wants to know a real person is being held accountable. Typically, this will be the Company President, Engineering Manager, or someone else high up in the organization. This can change, of course, depending upon the problem. Still, be sure there is an individual offering the business apology. Be honest, and do not shirk the responsibility.

Next, the apology must include a concrete gesture such as a parts discount, free on-site service (when service technicians are allowed into the plant) or other compensation, if possible. The gesture works best when the client sees that you are also sacrificing. This step demonstrates that you value the client. 

Of course, this can be costly, if it is done routinely, but in certain circumstances, it is important.  In one 2020 instance, due to a very late quotation, I explained to the client that this is not how projects are typically handled and offered “liquidated damages” as part of the Terms & Conditions.

Moving Forward from the Apology

After apologizing, review how the company will interact with the client in the future. You may need to change procedures or systems such that you can meet the clients’ needs next time. If so, be forthright. This can help reassure the client the same problem won’t occur again.  

Even as we continue to work at home, we can all do our best work. I know I am looking forward to getting back out to the office and traveling to see clients again. In the meantime, if something goes awry, you can be sure I’ll be open to making an apology. Still, I’ll hope the next time you contact me it will be with a kudo rather than a concern.