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Making a Business Apology: 3 Legal Tips

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on March 04, 2014 10:48 AM

As any business owner knows, mistakes happen and lessons are learned. But when is it appropriate to make a business apology?

Small business owners are often confounded by when an apology makes sense and how to go about making one.

Here are three legal tips on making a business apology:

  1. An apology may not always be appropriate. Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right. If the business failed to meet the customer's realistic expectations, then an apology makes sense. But if the customer's expectations were unreasonable -- for the price paid and the value received -- then an apology may not be appropriate, Forbes advises. Some business owners may be hesitant to apologize because it admits fault -- a potential gateway to legal liability -- but in the big picture, an apology is usually a much more efficient and cost-effective way to resolve a dispute than through litigation, which can be stressful, expensive, and time-consuming.
  2. Conduct a thorough investigation of the underlying complaint. If an apology makes sense, investigate the customer complaint to find out what happened. Remember, actions speak louder than words. Thoroughly investigating a complaint and not saying sorry will typically satisfy customers more than saying "sorry" and doing little to remedy the situation. Your customer will rightly consider your empty apology as hollow, which in turn could jeopardize your customer loyalty and exacerbate the potential for legal action. Customers who feel heard and, more importantly, see good faith action taken, are less likely to file lawsuits than frustrated and disgruntled customers.
  3. Call a lawyer. If your apology won't cost you much, you can probably go it alone. But if your apology puts a fair amount of money or a possible lawsuit at stake, consider consulting an experienced small business attorney for backup. Your attorney can help you craft and deliver an effective apology without significantly increasing your litigation risk.

Sometimes, sorry does cut it.

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