How to make polite, professional apologies

Making polite apologies is one of the most important skills you need as a secretary or PA. Being harsh or impatient is unprofessional and leaves a bad impression of you and your company.

In this tip you practise being polite and professional by thinking of ways to apologise to an irate customer in an email and on the phone.

This is just one of many occasions that call for an apology. Let’s look at some of the other occasions where you might have to say you’re sorry, and some of the ways you can do so – in writing and in person.

Here are some typical situations. You will probably already have dealt with some, if not all of them:

  • a customer claims he was treated badly
  • you are late with a delivery
  • you have to cancel an appointment for your boss
  • your company is in financial difficulties and cannot pay its bills
  • you sent a reminder out to someone by mistake
  • you forgot to pay an invoice
  • someone has asked you for a favour and you have to say no
  • you have to write a letter announcing a price increase
  • you or your boss forgot an appointment and kept someone waiting

When you have to apologise for something in writing, it is important to find the right tone. If you have made a mistake, admit it freely and without making excuses. A letter written in an apologetic tone and promising to put the matter right will create goodwill and it will be difficult for the client or business associate to bear a grudge against you. Sometimes, you will have to sound sincere even when you have had to swallow your pride and are actually writing the apology through gritted teeth.

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Here are some useful phrases for saying, and sounding, sorry – even though you sometimes may resent having to use them:

  • I am writing to apologise for the bad service you felt you received.
  • Owing to problems in our factory, we are sorry that we will not be able to process your order as agreed. We are doing our best to deal with the situation and hope we will be able to deliver the goods by ... at the latest.
  • Im am very sorry that I have to cancel our appointment on next Wednesday.
  • We apologise for not settling your invoice no. 123. Payment has been delayed because we have run into financial difficulties. We are doing everything we can to arrange payment in the shortest possible time.
  • I am very sorry you were sent a reminder for an invoice already paid.
  • I am sorry to hear you were kept waiting.
  • I am sorry but I am unable to help you at the moment.
  • I am sorry to inform you that we have been forced to raise our prices

New service: Vocabulary in this tip

harsh                              hart, streng
to bear a grudge            gegen jemanden einen Groll hegen
against someone       
to swallow your             den Stolz herunterschlucken
through gritted teeth     mit zusammengebissenen Zähnen
to resent something       sich an etwas stoßen, sich über etwas ärgern
owing                              infolge