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RESEARCH INSIGHT | Apologizing Doesn’t Always Make Things Better

The Research

Right after a service failure, most customer service providers intuitively apologize as they attempt to restore satisfaction. However, new research shows that a more effective approach is to thank customers (e.g., “thanks for your patience as we correct this error”). Why? It puts the focus on the customer’s magnanimity rather than the company’s shortcomings, which boosts customers’ self-esteem.

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What You Need to Know

Consider implementing “thank you” phrasing into customer service scripts and aim to highlight customers’ forbearance rather than the company’s failure.



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).

Yanfen You, Xiaojing Yang, Lili Wang and Xiaoyan Deng, “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),