I may have mentioned before a problem my grown daughter was having with getting pictures back from a photographer who took prom pictures of her and her friends - six months ago. The photographer (also a casual friend of the family) didn't return phone calls, emails, or even Facebook messages. My daughter finally filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and I wrote her a harshly worded email. I got involved because this woman's son was a friend of my son and not only was she not returning calls to me about the photos, but her son was not returning calls to my son. It was a bad situation.
Well, last Friday my daughter received her pictures and we both received apologies via text. Now, I'm a big proponent of telling customers you're sorry, especially if you messed up, and this apology was well-deserved. Her son resumed communicating with my son and my daughter proudly posted the pictures to Facebook. Case closed. Or is it? Apologies are good to build customer loyalty, but they must be delivered in a timely fashion. While there is no animosity amongst the involved parties, a business relationship has been irreparably damaged. Neither I nor my daughter will ever do business with this woman again, nor can we recommend her to others.
Furthermore, my daughter had been doing unpaid intern work for this photographer and the woman mentioned how she could really use the help now. Think my daughter is going to help? No way, nada, not at all. On top of losing a customer (and I was actually thinking about having this woman do some professional shots for me) she lost a loyal, hardworking, and cheap assistant.
So apologies are good, but they must be given swiftly and timely. An apology delivered too late might stave off legal action and resolve a situation, but it can still lead to the loss of a loyal customer -- or customers.