Whether you work in retail, a restaurant, or for a large corporation, there are going to be times when you’ll need to apologize for bad customer service.

Even the best businesses make mistakes at times. The integrity of a company can be measured by how it responds to these inevitable moments of lapse customer service.

No customer or client is going to respond positively to a company that simply shrugs off a mistake and doesn’t offer any real solution.

That’s why we’ve created a guide for how to apologize to a customer for bad service. Follow the steps listed below and your customers will be grateful that you did all you could to try and set things right.

Apologize, No Matter What

If a customer has a problem with any aspect of your service, then you’ll need to apologize. Even if you think the problem is based on a simple disagreement, you’ll still need to apologize.

This simply about respecting the perspective of your customers, no matter what.

It could be that you’re too close to the business to see certain flaws in the system. Take this criticism as an opportunity to accept feedback on your company’s work.

The fact that a customer felt motivated enough to bring a problem to your attention is evidence enough that the problem is significant to the customer, which in turn means that you should take it seriously as well.


First and foremost, you should try to empathize with the situation of the customer. That’s why you should begin the interaction with a quick apology and then ask for the full story of what happened.

This will give the customer the chance to explain the situation in its entirety, which also gives the customer a chance to vent and potentially calm down in the process.

Put yourself in their shoes.

bad service

For example, if a customer visited your restaurant and had to wait for 10 to 15 minutes to be served and then was served the wrong order, they would have every reason to be upset.

It may be that their server is new and dealing with a high volume of customers.

While this situation is understandable from your perspective as a manager or business owner, from a customer’s perspective, there’s no excuse for such poor service.

Empathizing with the customer’s point of view is a great way to provide a genuine apology for their negative experience.

Explain the Cause

After you’ve expressed empathy for your customer’s negative experience, you want to also offer an explanation as to why service was lackluster.

The important distinction to make at this stage in the process is to clarify that you’re not making an excuse for your company, but simply trying to offer an explanation for the situation.

If the problem arose because of high customer volume or being understaffed, offer this as a simplified explanation of what happened.

Quickly follow this up with a statement about how this explanation doesn’t make the situation acceptable, and that you’re committed to making things right.

Offering an Immediate Fix

Now it’s time to try and offer a solution to the current problem.

how to apologize for bad service

If a customer has received the wrong item, for example, it will be fairly easy to offer an immediate solution.

Simply state that you’ll provide an immediate replacement for the incorrect order. If you work in retail, you can offer to check your current stock for the correct item in the right size.

If it’s going to take time to offer a replacement, explain that you’ll find a replacement as quickly as you can.

Offering a Future Discount

If the customer is still upset about the situation, even after your explanation and your offer of a replacement, then you may also have to offer a future discount.

If possible, you should avoid offering a future discount or free service to angry customers all the time, but it can still be a great last resort to make sure that the customer doesn’t create negative associations with your company.

If you make a real effort to keep your customers happy, they’ll be much more likely to give you more business in the future.

Repeat Your Apology

As a final step, regardless of how the customer has reacted to the situation as a whole, repeat your apology once more.

How to Apologize to a Customer for Bad Service

It’s important that you express genuine regret for the customer’s sub-par experience.

Make sure that you’ve done your best to express your interest in making things right, despite the specific details of the customer’s negative interaction with your company.

Learn from Your Past Mistakes

Once the interaction and the customer has left your place of business, your work still isn’t over.

Now is your chance to take note of what happened and do some research to find out exactly what went wrong.

If the problem was the result of an employee mistake, then take a few moments to speak with the employee one-on-one and ask for their account of the interaction.

It could be that the customer was upset about something else entirely and decided to complain about your business simply as a way to vent and express their anger.

If the problem was the result of a genuine company mistake, you’ll need to find a way to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Even if these kinds of problems are rare overall, there’s always room to improve.


If you’re not accustomed to interacting one-on-one with angry or upset customers, then it may be difficult at first to apologize for bad service, especially when you don’t think that the complaint is justified.

But swallowing your pride and simple apologizing for a bad experience is a key aspect of becoming an effective business leader.

If you find yourself becoming upset during the interaction, then you may want to step away for a moment and take a few deep breaths.

This way, you’ll be less likely to say something that you’ll regret later on, further antagonizing the relationship between your business and this specific customer.

To repeat some very wise words, keep calm and carry on.