As someone whose often in the middle of customer-vs-business related matters that commonly require* an apology, I think that there's another aspect in play here.
(* Note that when I use the term required, this is to mean in my opinion would be the correct and proper course of action and not one that's mandated by statue or other legal mechanism.)
While I don't discount the power that a truly sincere apology has, I'm also not naive enough to also recognize that in many parts of the world, commerce and society at large has become a more litigious operating environment..
In keeping with that, apologies from one side (commonly the business) can, in some cases, be seen and/or interpreted by the other party (commonly the consumer) as an overt admission of fault, liability or responsibility by the other party; when in fact it's not..
Again, I'm all for honest communication and see nothing wrong with letting the consumer know that we apologize for how things are, or how the events unfolded, or the end results.. but in some cases, that apology must stop short of what a consumer is hoping, expecting or wanting to hear.. an admission of 'we did wrong'-- unless that's what it really is...
I'll use two different examples I see daily..
weather related delays that lead to missed connections and mechanical related delays that also lead to missed connections.
In both cases, it's regrettable that due to circumstances the passenger has or will miss their onward flight, and to the extent we can (or are required to) we will do what's possible to get them going as fast as possible.. but in the first case, while I can still apologize for the end result-- missing the onward connection, my apology can't extent to, nor should it be construed that we accept any liability for the root cause of the delay-- weather.
In the case of mechanical issues-- or issues that are largely carrier controlled, I see it differently, we own the problem-- from beginning to end.. and I think the apology should reflect that reality.. While it probably won't change the reality, I think it fairly represents the truth-- that is the problem that's being addressed is something that was/is the business' issue-- their maintenance.
Does these changes cheapen an apology? I think if it's delivered right, it doesn't have to, but again, I think that a lot of how it's perceived is driven by how the apology is presented-- and that includes things like non-verbal communications as well.
But in the end, I don't see anything wrong with a business making a general apology for the end results or current conditions.. perhaps I'll call this empathy... and do so without necessarily admitting fault.. and conversely, I see nothing wrong with also admitting 'we didn't do this right' when that's the reality as well.
I also think there's one other issues related to the apology aspect that's fundamentally intertwined.. and that's the notion of "what are you going to do about it?"
I think that in some cases the apology is expected to be combined with the 'here's what we're doing about it" conversation.. and that apologies that lack this component can be (by some) as being hollow or insincere..
I think that in many cases where an apology is due or right, there's an expectation; and perhaps rightly so, that it will also include the solution.. and I'm aware that in some cases (not all, but some) there is unfortunately no real feasible solution that will "make it right" or make the customer happy,, and in failing to doing so, leaves the customer with the (false in my opinion) impression that the offered apology is half-hearted, or insincere in nature.
By overall, I do agree that we've gotten away from what I like to call "the basics of customer-business interactions".. I'm also aware that this degradation that I see also extends to the consumer as well.. doesn't make one side right, and the other wrong, but I think reflects an overall degradation of the process-- and that there's more than one player in that process.