You are complaining to a corporation or the government who replies with a disingenuous prolonged apology (aka non-apology apology), but totally fails to solve your difficulty.

In a further complaint, does it help you to discredit and dismiss their apology? How can you politely convince them that if their apology were sincere, they would have done more? Here's a draft whose tone (I know) offends and so must be pacified:

I cannot accept your lengthy apology that appears disingenuous and affected because you have failed to do anything to remedy the difficulty (e.g. failing to reply promptly, refusing my request for compensation, inconveniencing and distressing me with their mistakes).

  • 3
    An apology from an institution and two dollars is worth a cup of coffee, and that's all it's worth. Instead of asking for ("sincere") apologies from our institutions, we should be asking for changes in behavior.
    – user1618
    Sep 14, 2017 at 14:45
  • Where are you located? That will have a huge effect on how your response will be received.
    – user288
    Sep 14, 2017 at 15:43
  • @RobertHarvey What quality of coffee are you getting for your $2? Sep 14, 2017 at 16:35

6 Answers 6


In a further complaint, does it help you to discredit and dismiss their apology?

No. This will ruin any goodwill that you might have gotten. If you want to remain polite, act like you accept the apology. You gave three examples of when you would like to dismiss the apology: failure to reply promptly, refusing a request for compensation, inconvenience and distress because of mistakes. Let me give you some reasons why you should never dismiss an apology based on these same 3 examples, and explain why you might have gotten the non-apology apology in the first place.

  • First up: failure to reply promptly. Well, you said you were complaining to a corporation or government. I don't know what 'promptly' means to you, but if I take a look at your other questions, you are at the least expecting a confirmation that your complaint was received, preferably within a day. Let me tell you: that is not going to happen. A corporation or government probably has thousands of messages and complaints arriving each day. If you are lucky, things will be dealt with within a week, but when complaining against a corporation or government, be prepared to wait a month or more before even getting a reply, and be prepared for the reply to be generic, they don't have the time to write everybody a personal letter.

  • Next: refusal of your request for compensation. In this case, don't dismiss the apology. "I'm sorry, but your request has been denied" after all sounds much nicer then "You're not getting any compensation from us". Read the reply closely. Is there a reason stated for declining? Is there a referral to where you could go and ask for a second opinion? If so, gather all the evidence that you think supports your claim for compensation, like excerpts from terms&conditions, and refute the decision at the appropriate venue. Don't go attacking them based on their apology, instead, base your defense on the reasons your compensation was declined and on the evidence you have supporting your compensation claim. Lawyer up if necessary.

  • And last but not least: Inconvenience and distress caused by their mistake. Well, this is probably the reason you are getting a generic apology, or maybe even a non-apology. Distress and inconvenience aren't really measurable are they? What may seem like a huge inconvenience to you, might be something that just 'happens' sometimes. Example: A bus breaks down, you miss the train, and have to spent half an hour in a cold, dark night on a platform instead of in a nice warm bed. There's a reason you almost always have to go to court to claim psychological damage: It is a very intangible thing, and you'll need a lot of proof to back up your claim. Sending a generic (maybe non-apology) apology is the right response in this case.

How can you politely convince them that if their apology were sincere, they would have done more?

I'd like to quote a paragraph from the Wikipedia article you linked for non-apology apology:

While the non-apology apology is clearly unsuited to situations where an expression of remorse, contrition, and future change are obviously desirable (e.g. the "happy ending" apology), it may prove extremely useful in situations where little can be done to assuage the apparent offence or prevent its repetition, as when an airline apologises for a delay, in the full knowledge that a future repetition is inevitable. Such tactical apologies may have beneficial effects simply through the validation of the emotions of the offended party: they answer the basic human need for disagreeable emotions to be recognised and acknowledged as important, while protecting the apparently offending party from an expression of remorse. Negotiators often use this tactic to calm tense situations: "an apology can defuse emotions effectively, even when you do not acknowledge personal responsibility for the action or admit an intention to harm. An apology may be one of the least costly and most rewarding investments you can make."

Read it carefully. What does it say? Right, it says it exactly, right there. You get a non-apology if

  • They can't promise it will never happen again
  • They are willing to recognize your emotions, but really can't remedy anything
  • To calm tense situations.

So, they are trying to calm the situation. Recognize that, and thereby their apology, and you will see that you can most effectively work from there.

If your problem isn't solved by the apology, think... Is it really something they could prevent from happening again? If not, don't keep pushing. The other party was right. And denying that is indeed rude.


You seem to know the answer yourself: it is rude. If I were writing something like this, I'd probably write it this way:

"Thank you so much for responding. I grew worried while waiting that you might not get back to me; I'm sure that it is difficult dealing with such a multitude of customers. I'm sorry, I think I must have explained myself poorly, as your response doesn't completely address my problem. I will do my utmost to better express my concern, and in that way we can help each other. I am having a problem with....."

Here, you get the desired result (hopefully) by deflecting blame onto yourself. You thanked them for their efforts, and then blamed yourself for how useless their answer was. The rep who is dealing with your problem will suddenly take a deeper interest in it, as it stands out from the crowd of rude, complaining emails. In many people, their terrible answer will even stir pangs of guilt upon seeing your eloquent politeness.


Is it rude? Yes. Is it wrong? No.

Well, depends.

When you reply back with such tone to their (in)sincere apology, you have one goal in mind: to let them know that they fail to meet your expectation, and you want them to remedy the situation.

Being in touch with the customer service in my company teaches me a lot about the types of customers, complaints, and the person behind the customer service.

Always read their reply and find out what the issue is:

  1. They don't understand/misunderstand your problem.
    Re-read your request. Can you make sense of it? Can you make it better? Use simpler terms and make sure the sentences make sense. Try asking someone else to read it and ask if they understand what you want.
    Then, respond back with your rephrased request, but first point out that they misunderstand your request. Hopefully now they understand and can proceed accordingly. If they can't understand your request, politely ask to be transferred to other person in charge (in my case, usually another customer service).

  2. The representative is not authorized to grant your request.
    Well, it's obvious, ask for escalation to their superior or someone else who has the right to do that. If they are the highest authority for that matter, well, you must find other way dealing with it outside the company. Consider "breaking up" with that company.

  3. They simply cannot grant your request.
    Maybe your request is out of scope of the service the company provide. Maybe they just can't do that. Either way, you can only stop here. Consider your options: accept it and move on, or move on from the company.

When your concern is legitimate, do not be afraid to point out that they are not helping. Let them know what's wrong, and be constructive in providing what you and them can do to achieve your objective.

Is it rude to point the insincerity? Yes. But if it helps you to get what you want, after all polite effort fails, by any means do it. Or not, if you value your relationship with the company more than your goal.

  • I agree with this answer 100%, and would simply add that instead of saying "I don't accept your insincere apology," the OP can open the conversation with something along the lines of "I appreciate your apology, but unfortunately, it does nothing to resolve my problem, which is..."
    – magerber
    Sep 14, 2017 at 23:47
  • 2
    I have also had some recent success by asking the person to whom I am speaking how I can officially register a complaint about the company. I am very clear that I am not complaining about their service or behavior (unless I am), but instead that the company would deem it acceptable that their customers are unable to use their products or services as they should. So far, this approach has been fairly successful at connecting me with a higher level representative who could then provide some sort of resolution.
    – magerber
    Sep 14, 2017 at 23:59

Lots of very good answers here. I'll add a little more...

The apology may or may not be sincere; hard to tell at this remove. What I'll recommend is that you acknowledge the apology along with a renewed call to action. Something like, "Dear X, I appreciate your kind words. I'm sure we can work our way through this. Specifically, we still have open issues [A, B, C]. End goal I would like to see is [D, E, F]. Please let me know what steps you are taking, and what kind of timeline for resolution we are looking at."

That sort of thing. Appreciate the kind words, but don't let 'em off the hook.


I suggest instead of saying they were insincere, I would write back and ask for a concrete expression of that apology in the form of some action or credit from them that acknowledges their part in the problem. I normally suggest some fraction of the total cost, higher or lower depending on how much control and responsibility I feel they should take for the problem.

Some business are happy to give a voucher towards future purchases, or some sort of upgrade. Eg if it's an airline, asking for a discount voucher, or a free upgrade to business class etc may be appropriate.

I run a small consultancy business. When the complaint is from one of my clients, I normally offer to halve the bill and say to them "rather than we both get bogged down dividing up how this mess happened, let's just split it half/half (you pay half the invoice and I write off the other half) and we move on!?". This skips over all the arguing, and is much more likely to convert the client from being upset to someone who will spread good word of mouth.

If I feel they are being totally unreasonable, I just don't do business with them again.

If you suggest something else than half/half, then you are starting to divvy up responsibility unless you suggest an amount more then they feel they deserved. Then they will agree quickly!


To me the key is whether the apology is something you are trying to get from the interaction. Often, all I want from a business or government agency is a genuine apology and acknowledgement of the trouble they've caused me. Other times, I don't care about that and want a refund, or compensation of some kind, and if the whole thing is rancorous and unpleasant throughout I don't care as long as the money gets sorted out. So you need to know what you want from this interaction.

If you want the apology, then:

As you know, I was delayed/hurt/inconvenienced/cheated by your company/department/staff and rather than pursue a legal settlement or take my complaints to the press, I have written and asked for a sincere apology. I have not received one. All I need to know is that your company/department regrets what happened to me and agree it was wrong. It would also be nice to know you are changing things so this won't happen to others. Are you able to tell me those things?

Adjust according to what you need from them, but do not list what you don't like about your non-apology such as it was too long or you don't believe it.

If you actually want a remedy and the poor pseudo-apology is no good to you, but probably a truly sincere good one wouldn't be either, just completely ignore it and ask for what you want:

As you know, I was delayed/hurt/inconvenienced/cheated by your company/department/staff and rather than pursue a legal settlement or take my complaints to the press, I have asked only for [remedy] which is something you should be able to do. Expressions of regret, sincere or not, do not compensate for my troubles [or get me to Winnipeg, or whatever you want them to do] and that is what I want you to focus on. How are you remedying my situation?

Focus on what you want. Anything they do or say that isn't about what you want, well, it isn't about what you want. Spending your time and energy correcting something irrelevant helps no-one.

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