Is It Too Late to Say I’m Sorry Now?

If your brand has to ask, the answer is undoubtedly yes.

Swooning teen girls may argue that it’s never too late to hear Justin Bieber say he’s sorry.  But, for businesses, saying sorry should come sooner rather than later.

Unless you are Justin Bieber, your brand should apologize before worrying if it's too late to do so.
Unless you are Justin Bieber, your brand should apologize before worrying if it’s too late to do so.

Too often brands wait until there’s a public outcry (think GM’s faulty ignition switch cover-up) or a negative social media storm swirling around their company before even thinking about mustering an apology.

By then, it’s too late.

According to media relations experts, myself included, offering a sincere apology does not necessarily mean that your business is to blame or acted inappropriately.

“An apology immediately shows that you’ve acknowledged that something wrong has occurred,” ConAgra Foods CCO Jon Harris said in an article in PR Week. “Some people think that apologizing is equivalent to accepting liability, but it is possible to be regretful for an incident even if something is not your fault.”

Saying sorry tells your customer that you care enough to acknowledge the issue at hand. Doing so will actually strengthen your brand, provided you do it correctly.

How to say sorry    Sorry

Companies can – and should – apologize for a myriad of issues, from data breaches, to inappropriate or offensive comments made publicly, to product failures and more.

These tips can help ensure that your apology is well-received:

  1. Be genuine in making an apology. Saying you’re sorry as a veiled attempt to simply make a problem go away will come off as being indifferent, arrogant, or insincere. Think about the kind of apology you might want in a similar situation.
  1. Don’t be defensive. It takes courage for a customer to address an issue or concern. It’s simpler to patronize another company. If a customer takes time to bring a problem to your attention, it means that the customer wants to maintain a relationship with your business. Don’t blow it by pointing fingers, making light of the situation or otherwise minimizing their concerns.
  1. Offer a solution to ensure that it will not happen again. If the issue is out of the ordinary for your brand, a mistake if you will, share honestly how you intend to prevent another occurrence. Outline the protocols you plan to put in place and when that will happen.
  1. Explain why the issue arose in the first place. Having a better understanding of a situation can sometimes allay fears and concerns. In some instances, a company’s decision to change a product or service can result in an upset customer base. Telling why and how that decision was made can sometimes mean the difference between keeping – and losing – customers.
  1. Stay on even ground. Make every effort to keep your apology in line with the way you first heard about the issue. If a customer talked to you face-to-face, he or she deserves a face-to-face apology. Apologizing only after a customer’s frustration level prompts them to post about their experience on social media will come off as insincere and uncaring.

My life experiences in business and in my personal life inspire some of my blog topics. This particular theme stems from three bad experiences I had recently as a member of a local gym. In each instance, I shared what had happened with company representatives, including the general manager most recently. I was not offered an apology or corrective action until I posted my experience on Facebook. Share how you communicate apologies with your customers below. For more insight, email

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