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Why Gratitude Outperforms Apologies in Service Failures [Self-Esteem Insights]

Why Gratitude Outperforms Apologies in Service Failures [Self-Esteem Insights]

Yanfen You, Xiaojing Yang, Lili Wang and Xiaoyan Deng

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Teaching Insights

Marketers should consider appreciating (e.g., saying “thank you for the wait”) rather than apologizing to (saying “sorry for the wait”) their customers in redressing most service failures, because doing so increases the customers’ self-esteem which in turn leads to favorable consumer responses such as higher customer satisfaction, positive word of mouth, and repatronage intentions.

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Related Marketing Courses: ​
Consumer Behavior; Marketing Communications; Marketing Strategy; Services Marketing

Full Citation: ​
You, Yanfen, Xiaojing Yang, Lili Wang, and Xiaoyan Deng (2020), “When and Why Saying “Thank You” Is Better Than Saying “Sorry” in Redressing Service Failures: The Role of Self-Esteem,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (2), 133-150.

Article Abstract
In their initial recovery efforts after a service failure, service providers need to decide what to communicate to consumers to restore their satisfaction. Prior work has primarily examined apology (saying “sorry”) as a symbolic recovery strategy; the current research suggests appreciation (saying “thank you”) as an alternative, often more effective strategy. Drawing from research on linguistic framing and self-view, the authors reason that the shift of focus in the service provider–consumer interaction, from emphasizing service providers’ fault and accountability (apology) to spotlighting consumers’ merits and contributions (appreciation), can increase consumers’ self-esteem and, in turn, postrecovery satisfaction. Across multiple service failure contexts, Studies 1a–1e establish the superiority of appreciation in redressing service failures. By measuring and manipulating self-esteem and examining the moderating role of narcissism and recovery timing, Studies 2–5 provide converging evidence for consumers’ state self-esteem as the underlying mechanism. Studies 6 and 7 go beyond examining appreciation in isolation and show that it is as effective as recovery messages that combine appreciation and apology (Study 6) and that its superiority over apology holds when service providers combine symbolic and utilitarian recovery (Study 7).


Special thanks to Kelley Gullo and Holly Howe, Ph.D. candidates at Duke University, for their support in working with authors on submissions to this program. 

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Yanfen You is Assistant Professor of Marketing, College of Business, New Mexico State University.

Xiaojing Yang is Associate Professor of Marketing, University of South Carolina, USA.

Lili Wang is Associate Professor, School of Management, Zhejiang University, China.

Xiaoyan Deng is Associate Professor of Marketing, Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University.