Many of you, like me, may have been affected the the Epsilon data breach. It has impacted on dozens of businesses who make use of their marketing services, including companies like Target, Marriot, Hilton Hotels, Best Buy, JP Morgan, Capital One, and the list goes on…

I received my first apology email today – one of the above businesses had an account for me. While no financial details were lost, my email address (and perhaps postal address?) were disclosed. More than that, my relationship as a previous customer was disclosed. It is worthy of note that in the UK, this is a serious issue for a bank (customer relationships are afforded special confidentiality), but for me it is a serious issue full stop.

The apology I received, in my opinion, fell far short of what I would expect. As a minimum I look for:

  • A genuine acceptance that what happened was wrong.
  • In as far as is reasonable, an explanation of what went wrong and why
    (i.e. does the offender understand? Is it under control?) –
    Not everyone agrees with this one.
  • A commitment to a) put it right and b) ensure that it doesn’t happen again (i.e. lessons learnt).

Sorry should go beyond words. Actions speak louder than words, as they say, so I personally like to see some commitment to action – or as we said to our kids around here, sorry means “I won’t do it again.”

I’m not alone. Here are some thoughts on what should be in an apology from some good friends on twitter:

@benjaminellis An apology should be personal, recognise the error, take responsibility for it, and explain steps taken to avoid a repeat

@benjaminellis Ack of the problem without passing blame, clear scope of the problem, how it’s being resolved. Then follow-up on resolution.

@benjaminellis sincerity, empathy, and an implied commitment to move forward in the relationship/avoid doing this again. #2centsworth

@benjaminellis A genuine, honest and singular admittance of guilt.

@benjaminellis The word ‘sorry’ in a genuine, heartfelt tone, and some offer to make amends for the wrong-doing.

@benjaminellis 1) acknowledgement of issue 2) steps to ensure does not happen again 3) gesture of goodwill.

@benjaminellis Acknowledgement, remorse, some sort of restitution. All wrapped in courtesy and humanity. Explanation/excuse not needed.

@benjaminellis the word ‘sorry’ is too often left out, which I always think makes it look reluctant/like person isn’t *really* apologising
Thank you also to talktojimmer ExemplasPenny amygreg girlygeekdom JamieSpafford GaryDickenson marketurner IAmKat drbexl and wisdomlondon for their answers. The best answer goes to James:

“The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.”  P.G. Wodehouse, The Man Upstairs.

Which put me in my place :). Apologies should be given, not demanded.