How to write a professional apology email

Even the best businesses can’t avoid conflicts, mistakes and complaints. That makes conflict management is one of the most important professional skills to have. Knowing how to write an apology email to angry customers, co-workers, supervisors or business partners is a valuable skill that everyone should possess. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about writing a professional apology email.

Why are apology emails important?

There are clear benefits to a successful apology email. The right kind of sorry email can calm down angry customers, save strained business relationships and restore harmony among co-workers. Sincere apologies show that you take problems, mistakes and misunderstandings seriously and are making an active effort to improve the situation at hand. But different situations will require different approaches. You’ll want to use a different tone and include different content for customers than for a business partner or supervisor.

Below we’ll look at different situations that warrant an apology email and give you tips on how to apologise professionally in an email. We’ll also tell you what should be in an email and include apology email examples and templates.

When and how should you write an apology email?

Once you’ve decided to write an apology email the next question is, what should that email contain? No matter how much experience you have with professional communication, apology emails don’t seem to get any easier.

Below are some tips to help you draft a successful apology email:

How should you apologise?

The most important aspect of an apology is the ‘how’. The way you express yourself will determine whether the other person believes your apology and can understand your point of view. The biggest elements of a successful apology are honesty, responsibility and transparency. If you made a mistake, you should take ownership of it and apologise sincerely. That will show that you’re professional, earn you respect from the other person and make clear that you’re actively working towards a solution.

Some important things to pay attention to are:

  1. You should never use phrases like ‘I’m sorry, but…’. If you’re apology reads like an excuse, you might even make the situation worse. Focus on clearly expressing that you’re sorry and showing that you understand the other person’s anger.
  2. Suggest a way to solve the problem and make up for your mistake.
  3. Try to use first-person formulations like ‘I apologise’ rather than impersonal forms like ‘We apologise’. However, the choice between ‘I’ and ‘we’ will depend on the context. In customer service, it’s more common to use ‘we’ in apology emails.

Which situations call for an apology?

There’s a wide variety of situations that might call for an apology email. That makes it all the more important to develop a sense for when an apology is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary. Below we give you an overview of some business situations that warrant an apology.

Professional or technical mistakes

There are a number of mistakes you can make in the course of doing business that would warrant an apology:

  • Missing a deadline or appointment
  • Sending documents or media late
  • Sending incomplete materials
  • Not answering a message
  • Sending the wrong email attachment or sending an email to the wrong person
  • Accidentally sending confidential information
  • Mixing up appointments
  • Putting the wrong email addresses in CC or BCC

Typos and other careless mistakes

Careless mistakes like typos can often be the most frustrating, because they’re so easy to avoid. If it’s too late to, for example, recall your Outlook email or correct your mistake, show the person in question that you’re professional and conscientious by sending them an apology email. However, make sure to keep things in proportion. If you call someone by the wrong name, you should definitely apologise but not write an essay-length email about it. ‘Short but sincere’ is the name of the game.

Some examples of careless mistakes that you should send a short and sincere apology email for:

  • Using the wrong name
  • Sending an email to the wrong person
  • Writing the wrong job position or job title
  • Using the wrong business name
  • Misgendering

Technical errors

Technical errors are some of the most common mistakes and apologising for them should be standard. These errors can include:

  • Software or system errors
  • Errors with email lists
  • System failures or slow features
  • Emails that weren’t sent, were mistakenly sent or were sent multiple times
  • Spam that was sent from malware-infected accounts
  • Automatic confirmations or out-of-office emails that didn’t get sent

Apologies when you’re not to blame

Not every situation warrants a direct apology. In some cases, you should try to write an apology without apologising. That’s especially true if it becomes clear that a ‘problem customer’ is merely trying to get freebies, is blaming you for their mistakes or doesn’t understand certain conditions of the sale.

Your top priority should still be to act friendly and professional. Use formulations like ‘We’re sorry to hear you were dissatisfied’ to help the customer feel understood and acknowledged without explicitly taking blame. You might also be able to use the chance to point out any misunderstandings without coming across as pedantic.

Apologising for misunderstandings

When it comes to misunderstandings, the most important thing is to clear them up. If you’ve expressed yourself in a misleading way, address it directly and apologise. You should also assure the other person that you’ll be clearer in the future.

Apologising when you’re both at fault

If both you and the other person made mistakes, fostered misunderstandings or got irritated, you shouldn’t wait for them to make the first move. Use formulations like the following in your apology email:

I’m sorry that we misunderstood each other. In hindsight, we could have avoided those mistakes. That makes it all the more important that we find a solution that’s satisfactory for both of us, so that we can continue working well together.

What should be included in every apology email?

No matter what you’re apologising for, there are certain things that are true of every professional apology email.

  • Keep it short: Write a sincere apology without any ifs, ands or buts.
  • Don’t make excuses: You should never find yourself writing ‘I’m sorry, but…’. Avoid making excuses and giving far-fetched explanations. The simplest way to smooth things over is to admit your mistakes.
  • Take responsibility: Don’t stop at an apology. You should also take responsibility for your mistakes. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and emphasise that you understand the inconvenience your mistake caused. Look for a solution.
  • Propose solutions: Suggest a specific solution in the form of a replacement, compensation or something similar. In addition, communicate the next steps transparently and propose a timeline. That will make it clear that you’re actively working on a solution.
  • Learn from your mistakes: Show that you want to learn from your mistakes and demonstrate how you’re doing that. Assure the other person that you won’t make the same mistake again.
  • Acknowledge the gravity of the situation: If you’ve made a really big mistake, you should also ask for forgiveness to show that you’re serious. This won’t be appropriate in every situation so use your best judgement to make sure you don’t overdo the apology.
  • Don’t take it personally: Especially when it comes to angry customers or business partners, it’s important not to take complaints personally. Defensive replies are a no go.
  • Accept feedback and suggestions for improvement: Show that you’re interested in feedback and suggestions for improvement, both in the current situation and in the future.
  • Good form: In the spirit of email etiquette, make sure you use the right sign off and have a good email signature.

3 examples for professional apology emails to customers

Apology emails to customers can take a wide variety of forms depending on the customer’s complaint. Below we’ll show you three apology email examples for different situations.

Apology email for large groups of customers

If you’ve accidentally sent out an email to a large group of customers using your newsletter list or customer service platform, you’ll want to react as quickly as possible. That’s also true if you’ve been targeted by malware and accidentally sent spam to customers. When it comes to large groups, a standardised, professional email will be most appropriate. The faster and more transparent your response is, the better for your company’s image.

Example: An email announcing sales that are no longer going on was accidentally sent to customers.

Email:

It looks like our last email announcing the spring sale was out of date. We’re sorry about that! But don’t worry, you won’t leave empty handed. We’re offering 50% off all reduced items. Simply enter the code SALE with your next purchase.

It’s important that you explain the problem in your own words, don’t hesitate to apologise and offer a solution. By offering customers a discount, you turn the problem into an opportunity for a better brand image.

Note

Based on your company’s style, your apology email can be more casual or more formal. If you take a casual tone, integrate Outlook emojis to keep the message light and fun.

Personalised apology emails to individual customers

A mass email probably won’t have any big consequences for a user’s experience. But system errors are another story.

Example: A company that offers users integrated payment gateways for websites and online store experienced an outage. They want to apologise to their customers personally and professionally.

Email:

Dear [name of customer],

On behalf of the team at [company name], I want to sincerely apologise for the recent problems with our integrated payment gateway. We understand how crucial the payment system is for your business and can completely understand your frustration. We’re already in contact with the gateway provider and can promise a solution within the next twelve hours.

Until the problem with the gateway is solved, we can offer you one of our alternative gateway solutions. Since setting up a new gateway can involve extra work, we’re here to help integrate it into your site, so that your business can go on without any further interruptions.

We’d also like to assure you that we’re making efforts to prevent similar problems in the future.

Thank you!

[Name of company/Customer service agent]

Apology emails to angry customers or business partners

There are a number of reasons a customer or business partner might be angry – delays, late replies and bad service are just a few. You’ll want to apologise to them quickly and honestly.

Example: There were long delays in the delivery of an order or the arrival of important documents, due to a problem with the postal service.

Email:

Dear [name],

We sincerely apologise for the delayed delivery. We understand the inconvenience the delay caused for you and assure you that it won’t happen again.

We very much value our long-standing relationship and your loyalty over the years, and hope that you continue to place your trust in our services. To make up for this inconvenience, we’d like to offer you [suggestion/offer].

If you have any suggestions or additional feedback for us, do not hesitate to get in touch.

Sincerely, [Name of sender or team leader]

Templates of apology emails for different situations

Below we include a number of templates for different apologies.

Apology email to employees

Example 1:

Dear [name],

Unfortunately we’ve encountered some problems in delivering the contract documents. We understand that you won’t be able to meet the project deadline now. To avoid any further issues, we’re happy to push the deadline back by a week. We apologise for the situation!

Best, [Name]

Example 2:

Hi team,

Due to unexpected absences, there’s been a delay in processing invoices. We apologise for any inconvenience that’s given rise to. We’re working on finding a better solution for these kinds of situations in the future, and ask for your understanding this time around. Payment will be sent within the next two days. Thank you for your hard work!

Best,

[Name]

Apology email to managers/supervisors

Example 1:

Dear [name of manager],

This kind of mistake should never have slipped past me. I sincerely apologise and take full responsibility for it. I started working on a solution right away and can assure you that the situation is already taken care of. I can also assure you that I will reflect on how this happened and be more conscientious in the future.

Sincerely,

[Name]

Example 2:

Dear [name of supervisor],

I sincerely apologise for my unprofessional behaviour in the consultation with [name of customer]. In retrospect, it’s clear to me how my behaviour has a negative effect not only on our business relationships but also on the company’s image. I have also sent [name of customer] an email with my sincere apologies for acting unprofessionally and inappropriately. I assure you that I will work on this and act as a proper representative of the company in the future.

Sincerely,

[Name]

Apology email to co-workers or business partners

Example 1:

Hi [name of co-worker],

I’m sorry that I missed our meeting. My previous meeting unexpectedly ran over. I already left you a little note in your office, but I also wanted to send you an email to personally apologise for any inconvenience.

Of course an apology can’t get you back the time you lost, but I can assure you that reliability and punctuality are top priorities for me. This won’t happen again.

It would be great if we could reschedule the meeting. I hope to hear from you soon.

Best,

[Name]

Example 2:

Dear [name of business partner],

I was very troubled to hear about the problem you had with our services. [Summary of problem]. On behalf of the company, I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience. To make up for it as much as possible, I can offer you the following solution: [Describe suggested solution]. In addition, we’re already in contact with IT and assure you that our service will be up and running again within six hours.

Sincerely,

[Name]

Apology email to customers

Example 1:

Hi [name of customer],

We’ve received your email about shipping delays and sincerely apologise. Your order should definitely have arrived by now, so we’ll send you a free replacement right away. Since this is the second time you’ve experienced delays, we’ll upgrade your shipping next time to make sure you get your order on time. Thank you for your patience!

Best,

[Name]

Example 2:

Hi [name of customer],

We’re sorry to hear that you aren’t satisfied with our product. We’re always looking to improve our customers’ experience, so we’d like to propose two possible solutions:

Solution 1: We reimburse you the full price of the item. You won’t need to send us back the product.

Solution 2: You send us back the product and choose a replacement from our shop that would better suit your needs. We’ll of course pay for return delivery.

Just let us know which solution you prefer. We’ll take care of everything else, and hope that you shop with us again soon.

Best,

[Name]