Sorry for the Late Response: How to Apologize in Email
Acknowledging the delay, showing compassion for the customer’s feelings, and offering a solution, are all critical components of a great apology.
What do customers value more than nearly anything else?
Speedy service from your customer service representatives. Studies have shown that two thirds of customers prefer fast service, and your business is under more pressure than ever to provide them with timely responses. If customers are kept waiting, especially on urgent matters, this can lead to frustration and disappointment as customers were hoping you could resolve their problem or answer their question more quickly.
It’s been discovered that customers value promptness in responses over other important factors like price. So if a customer reaches out to several businesses and your business is the first one to respond, then you will likely win their business.
Factors like these mean it is very important to apologize, or at least acknowledge, when a customer has received a late response. In our hyper connected technological world, speed is more important than ever and customers expect constant availability even outside of business hours. Depending on your industry and business type, a late response can be more than an hour, to more than a day or even a week.
Responding with apology can be very important for repairing customer relations and ensuring customers continue to do business with you.
Why is it important to apologize to customers?
We’ve already touched on why it’s so important to respond quickly to customers, and when you don’t that can warrant an apology.
You have an edge over your competitors
Many businesses make the mistake of ignoring their customers and not offering an apology when finally getting back to them. You can put yourself ahead of the curve by apologizing for any delay and earning the goodwill of your customers. Customers may still resent being kept waiting, but an apology will help repair any damage caused. Many emails might be time sensitive so it’s only right to apologize if you’re not prompt in replying.
Businesses that have the courage to apologize gain an edge over their competitors and win loyal customers.
Customers believe that you value them
Giving a simple apology shows customers that you value them, since you are regretful for not getting back to them sooner. If keeping customers waiting is standard practice in your company, this may suggest that your business doesn’t care about its customers as much as it should. Of course the delay isn’t the fault of the individual agent, but they are the representative of the company.
Businesses that strive to do better will retain more customers than those that take their customers for granted.
Your business looks more professional
When you have kept customers waiting, it can look much more professional to offer them an apology. Your business is acknowledging its responsibility to deliver fast responses, and if you don’t apologize it may appear as though you are trying to pass the buck. You don’t have to beg for forgiveness, but you are simply apologizing for wasting their time.
Read More: How to Respond to Price Negotiation
Businesses that look more professional win the respect of their customers and come to be viewed as more reliable, which thereby maintains the company’s reputation.
How do you say sorry for a delayed response?
It’s up to you how you apologize for a delayed response, but there is a formula you can follow to construct a great apology.
Acknowledge the delay
Let customers know you are aware there has been a lapse in service. This simple step shows customers they are not unreasonable for having expected a quicker reply, which they didn’t receive. An acknowledgement shows your business knows it should have done better, and missed the mark on this one.
An acknowledgement is better than glossing over a sticky moment – customers will notice.
Apologize for the lateness in one sentence
You don’t need a whole paragraph for your apology to customers – one single sentence will suffice in which you apologize for the lateness. One sentence is polite but you are not actually begging for their forgiveness. A brief apology is all that is needed, so say sorry and then move on to the next part of the apology.
Short and sweet is the key to an apology from a business, which takes responsibility but avoids groveling.
Acknowledge their feelings
Customers feel grateful when you show awareness of how you’ve made them feel through your late response. You might have made them feel frustrated, disappointed, angry, or let down, and it’s your job to make amends for causing these negative feelings.
Showing compassion and empathy for putting customers in a difficult position is all part of an effective apology.
Give a short reason for the lateness
It can really appease customers when you at least offer a reason for the lateness, whether that’s a higher volume of tickets than normal, a new release, or a shortage of staff. Customers understand that your business is not perfect but feel better when you provide an explanation, and just remember to offer only as much justification as needed.
Giving a reason helps alleviate the frustration customers feel when they don’t get the response they expected.
Move the conversation forward
After offering the key elements of your apology, move the conversation forward to address exactly why customers were contacting you in the first place. If you can provide an immediate solution or answer, even better, but at the very least let customers know what you are going to do to help.
Don’t spend too much of your email begging for forgiveness or customers will think you are desperately unable to cope.
Ask if there’s anything else you can help with
In order to be extra helpful, close your email by asking if there’s anything else you can help the customer with. Now the channels of communication have been established, you’ll want to make sure the customer’s issue is fully resolved to avoid them contacting you again at a later date or, worse, giving up entirely.
Customers are often struggling with further issues but feel uncomfortable bringing them up, so make sure to elicit everything you can.
What do you say instead of sorry for the delay?
Sometimes, businesses will be resistant to apologizing for the delay. This could be because they don’t want to admit they’re wrong to customers, or they think this will give customers license to walk all over them. Whatever the reason, companies may be interested in an alternative to the apology.
Instead of an apology, you can say something like:
- “Thank you for your patience.”
- “We appreciate you bearing with us.”
Often, avoiding an apology can make you look more confident but you risk normalizing the chance of delays. If customers come to believe this will be your baseline of service, they may think about taking their business elsewhere to another company that values them.
Nine times out of ten, a genuine and sincere apology will be key to winning customers back over after they have experienced a delay in response.
Should you apologize for a delayed response?
Whether or not you apologize for a delayed response depends on your business. If you believe you have delivered a lapse in service, apologizing to customers could be the polite thing to do. Do you want to portray your brand as compassionate and helpful or cold and dismissive?
Think about it like this. If you were delayed in responding to a business associate, you would be likely to apologize. Why should customers be any different? Customers have chosen to spend their money with you, and trusted you to deliver the promised service or product. Good customer service is an indispensable part of that promise.
Successful businesses exist to serve their customers and therefore if you have kept them waiting you’ll almost certainly want to consider apologizing. As humans, when we have done something wrong we believe it’s polite to apologize, but then move on.
It’s not about groveling for forgiveness but simply making amends for poor service.
What is the meaning of late response?
A late response will mean different things to different businesses. What is normal for one company might be horribly delayed for another, and the key is aligning yourself with the expectations of your customers.
Naturally, the faster the better in the world of the customer.
It also depends on the nature of your customer base. According to research, Baby Boomers are the least patient generation while Generation Z are the most forgiving. Ultimately, a late response depends on the standards you set for yourself as a company and this may be reflected in a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
Whatever you feel is an unreasonable length of time for keeping customers waiting is a late response. Some customer queries may also be time-sensitive, such as confirming the possibility of a return. If your response falls outside this window, as well as making the effort to say sorry for the late reply, you may want to consider giving the customer an extension.
Therefore, a late response is dependent on context and you have to consider how customers will perceive your business.
How do you apologize professionally?
Apologizing professionally is important in customer service, because you are representing a business. There’s a big difference between professional and personal relationships.
First and foremost, keep it specific. Relate your apology to the delayed response rather than simply remaining general and apologizing for your entire existence.
Say something like:
- “Many apologies for…”
- “Our sincerest apologies for…”
- “I’m so sorry for…”
Once you’ve apologized, move on and solve the problem. Customers are looking for resolutions to their issues, and that is the ultimate apology when you have kept them waiting. Apologies are only valid when you back it up with some sort of action, and ensure it never happens again.
Being able to apologize effectively is part of what it takes to be professional. Businesses that can own up to their mistakes and correct them are best placed to win customers and earn their loyalty.
Professional people avoid taking things personally and remember that they are a business relating to a customer.
Customer apology email templates
Apology for a Obsolete Feature
Our sincere apologies for the delayed response and the frustration this must have caused you. Our product team has now confirmed that we will no longer be providing support for this feature, but we can recommend feature X as an alternative for your needs.
Apology for a Late Response
Sorry for the late reply and for any inconvenience caused. We are experiencing a higher volume of tickets than usual and it’s been a very chaotic afternoon. I can see that y our issue has now been resolved. Is there anything else you need help with today or am I able to close this ticket?
Apology for a Late Response (Holidays)
We are deeply sorry for the slow response to your inquiry. It looks like your email was lost in our inbox over the busy holiday period. If you would still like to know more about our services, please view the attached pricing plans.
Apology for a Late Response (Out Sick)
So sorry for not getting back to you sooner and causing you to wait. The agent handling this case was off sick and I am just picking up their emails now. I am happy to confirm that we are able to accept a return this time. Please find the attached label to print out to a affix to your product when you return it.
How to avoid late responses to customers
Apologizing to customers is great, but it’s best to avoid the late responses in the first place. Here’s how you can do that.
Use software like Keeping
Keeping is customer service software that you can use to create a shared inbox in Gmails. With features like being able to assign tickets to particular agents, mark tickets with a status, and flag high priority tickets, you’ll likely never have an email slipping through the cracks again.
Customer service teams love Keeping because you don’t have to leave the software you already know. Keeping works right on top of Gmail without changing the basic interface so agents learning Keeping suffer virtually no learning curve.
Hire enough agents to cope with busy periods
Software like Keeping will show you when you are experiencing the highest volume of tickets in your team. This can allow you to plan your resources to support your agents when they’re struggling and continue to offer consistent service.
A huge reason why emails get missed is because you don’t have enough agents to cope with the demand. Ensuring that your workforce is fully staffed means customers will receive timely replies and have their problems resolved quickly.
Reduce the number of emails
You can also go the other way by deflecting more of the tickets that would usually arrive in your inbox. You can do this by spending some time creating self-service resources such as a knowledge base that answers common questions and helps customers resolve typical problems.
You can stay on top of your inbox more easily when agents aren’t spending the majority of their time answering mundane queries. Empowering customers to help themselves is a great way to build confidence in your products and loyalty in your customer base.
Enable push notifications
If you’re using email software like Gmail, you may want to enable push notifications for new emails so you receive a nudge every time you receive an incoming message. You may not respond to it right away, but you can view your unread email notifications any time you look at your device so you never forget to respond to another email.
Enabling push notifications means you can easily keep track of unread messages and appreciate which customers are waiting for you to respond. You can also set reminders when you are busy to prompt you to reply to an email later.
Businesses may wonder whether they should say sorry for the late reply or not, but failing to apologize may look to customers like you are trying to get away with bad service. When you own up to your mistakes, you become the bigger person and customers are more likely to forgive you. Being timely in your responses to customers is hugely important for satisfaction and loyalty.
Keeping customers waiting is one of the worst mistakes you can make, so if you apologize for the delay promptly, this makes up for this lapse in service and helps your business present itself in a better light. There’s no need to grovel but simply offer a quick apology and move on to the most important thing – solving your customer’s problem.
Customers appreciate it when you offer them a well-constructed apology after you have made them wait for you.
Acknowledging the delay, showing compassion for the customer’s feelings, and offering a solution, are all key components of a great apology. Ideally, it’s best to avoid the delay in the first place by using software such as Keeping to manage your customer service emails, but if you really can’t help lapsing then an effective apology is the next best thing.
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