Why Saying “Thank You” is Better than “Sorry”

September 1, 2021

Yanfen You, PhD, Xiaojing Yang, PhD, Lili Wang, PhD, and Xiaoyan Deng, PhD

Have you ever been kept waiting by a service provider well beyond the proposed arrival time? Your answer is likely “yes.” In many instances, once the provider ultimately arrives, they say something along the lines of, “Sorry for the wait.” While an apology statement, such as “I’m sorry,” by service providers means they recognize their fault in the situation and thus may help restore customer satisfaction to a certain degree, our research suggests that a statement of appreciation, such as saying “Thank you for waiting,” could increase customer satisfaction even further. In real estate, if service providers address customers with appreciation rather than an apology, it can significantly improve a customer’s self-esteem, which in turn, will boost post-transgression customer satisfaction with your service.

Appreciation vs. Apology

Service companies can use symbolic recovery, such as an apology or an expression of appreciation, to regain customer satisfaction after a service failure occurs. Once a customer becomes dissatisfied with a service, a domino effect ensues that can lead to customer complaints, product returns, and ultimately customers switching to another company.1 Researchers have discovered that symbolic recovery is a cost-effective method that can restore customer satisfaction.2 Therefore, it is important to understand how to best utilize symbolic recovery to maintain positive service provider-consumer interactions.

Stock Photo of Pen Writing the Words Thank You on a Piece Of Paper

While symbolic recovery can be used in many forms, our research focuses on why appreciation is better than an apology. An apology conveys that the service provider recognizes and takes responsibility for the service failure. Although an apology serves as a cost-effective method of boosting customer satisfaction, it requires that the provider admit fault and take accountability for the transgression. Directly after the provider apologizes, the customer will likely have a positive response. However, this positive response will often dissipate, and lingering negative thoughts about the service transgression will likely surface and hinder future positive provider-consumer interactions. After a service failure, service companies can use an apology to boost customer satisfaction; yet they should recognize the long-term consequences of admitting fault.

What makes an expression of appreciation better than an apology? Appreciation highlights customers’ merits and contributions after the transgression occurs. Therefore, appreciation shifts the customer’s thoughts from the mistake made by the service provider to an acknowledgement of the customer’s sacrifice. For example, if service providers keep their customers waiting for an extended period of time, instead of saying “sorry for the wait” they can say “thank you for the wait.” This expression of appreciation recognizes customers’ positive qualities (such as being patient) but also signals an admission of guilt. In essence, appreciation acknowledges the service failure but does so in a positive manner that increases the self-esteem of the customer.

Both an apology and an expression of appreciation are symbolic recovery mechanisms that increase customer satisfaction. Our research finds that service providers should shift their focus from emphasizing the service providers’ fault (apology) to highlighting customers’ contributions and merits (appreciation), which in turn can increase consumers’ self-esteem.

How Does Self-Esteem Play a Role?

Appreciation is better than an apology due to its ability to use customers’ contributions to their self-esteem. But what if the pursuit of self-esteem isn’t a dominant motivator for an individual? The desire for heightened self-esteem varies depending on the level of narcissism of a person. Narcissism is a concept that implies an inflated sense of self 3 and captures the strength of people’s desire to pursue self-esteem4. An individual’s level of narcissism moderates the effects appreciation has on self-esteem. That is, individuals high in narcissism have a strong desire to pursue self-esteem. As a result, they will use the acknowledgement of their contributions and merits to increase the way they value themselves. However, if an individual is low in narcissism, an expression of appreciation is often less effective. For these individuals an expression of appreciation is not necessarily better than an apology. Our research suggests that it is important for service providers to informally assess a person’s narcissism (e.g., are younger, those who use social networks more) to determine whether appreciation will be better than an apology.

Real Estate Implications

For all service providers, including those in real estate, altering your linguistic framing from saying “sorry” to “thank you” can greatly affect a customer’s satisfaction after a service failure occurs. Although both apology and appreciation address the mistake made, appreciation does so while also increasing the customer’s self-esteem. Appreciation acknowledges fault while also highlighting the customer’s merits and contributions. As a real estate professional, transitioning from an apology to appreciation can be a vitally important tool that can be used to increased customer satisfaction after a transgression occurs. If service providers are able to implement “thank you” into instances of redressing service failures, then they will enhance the satisfaction the customer has with their services, their interactions, and the organization as a whole.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Recommended Reading

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.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


  1. Augusto de Matos, Celso, Jorge Luiz Henrique, and Fernando de Rosa (2013), “Customer Reactions to Service Failure and Recovery in the Banking Industry: The Influence of Switching Costs,” Journal of Service Marketing, 27(7), 526-538.
  2. Goodwin, Cathy and Ivan Ross (1992), “Consumer Response to Service Failures: Influence of Procedural and Interactional Fairness Perceptions,” Journal of Business Research, 25(2), 149-163.
  3. Campbell, W. Keith, Angelica M Bonacci, Jeremy Shelton, Julie J. Exline, and Brad J. Bushman (2004), “Psychological Entitlement: Interpersonal Consequence and Validation of a Self-Report Measure,” Journal of Personality Assessment, 83(1), 29-45.
  4. Dunning, David (2007), “Self-Image Motives and Consumer Behavior: How Sacrosanct Self-Beliefs Sway Preferences in the Marketplace,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 17(4), 237-249.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

About the Authors

Yanfen You, PhD
Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Dr. Yanfen You’s (PhD – University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee) research interests have focused on linguistic framing, action orientation and (im)patience, technology, creativity, self and social identity, and interpersonal relationships. Dr. You has published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing, and International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Xiaojing Yang, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, University of South Carolina
Dr. Xiaojing Yang’s (PhD – Indiana University) research interests have focused on marketing practices and consumer psychology, including creativity, visual marketing, and social media influence. Dr. Yang has published in the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Advertising, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, and Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. Dr. Yang has also been acknowledged by the Moore School of Business for his research looking at how consumers’ decisions are affected by how often they interact with dogs or cats.

Lili Wang, PhD
Associate Professor, School of Management, Zhejiang University (China)
Dr. Lili Wang’s (PhD – Shanghai Jiao Tong University) research interests have focused on consumer behavior, the impact of interpersonal relationships on self-control, as well as anthropomorphism and consumer behavior. Dr. Wang has published in the Journal of Consumer Research, European Journal of Marketing, including publications in highly ranked Chinese (CSSCI) journals such as Management World and Nankai Management Review. Dr. Wang has received research awards including ACR The Franco Nicosia ACR Competitive Paper, China Marketing International Conference Best Paper (Second Prize), Excellent Paper in Journal of Management Science and 2018 Emerald Literati Awards. She has also hosted two National natura Science Foundation of China projects.

Xiaoyan Deng, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, The Ohio State University
Dr. Xiaoyan Deng’s (PhD –University of Pennsylvania) research interests have focused on consumer behavior including the interplay among perception and cognition, as well as consumer judgement, decision and behavior. Dr. Deng has published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Marketing, and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Her research has been featured on many nation media outlets including the New York Times, PBS, and Science Daily. Dr. Deng currently serves on the Editorial Review Boards of the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing.