No matter how long you’ve been in business, chances are good that at some point this year, you’ll make a mistake. Mistakes are part of the human experience—everyone makes them, and everyone expects them. A mistake, however, can be particularly painful when it has the potential to cost you money in business. Is there a right way to recover from a mistake? What lessons can you learn that will not only help you recover, but allow you to retain the client? How can you become a successful entrepreneur, in spite of missteps and errors? For starters, consider the following tips.
Notify the client.
Sometimes, you discover a mistake long before your client does. In those situations, it is tempting to simply hope for the best and play the odds to see if the client notices. However, you should notify the client as soon as you discover the error. If possible, speak to the client in person. It can be hard to convey an apology through email, so if a face-to-face meeting isn’t possible, contact the customer via the phone.
Don’t mince words. Admit that you (or your company) made a mistake and accept the responsibility. This is no place for vague euphemisms such as “A mistake has been made” or “There was an error.” Clients will be reassured at your willingness to claim responsibility for the mistake and will be more likely to give you the opportunity to correct it.
Own the mistake.
Accepting responsibility for a mistake, particularly for an error that wasn’t made by you personally, takes courage. You are opening yourself up to anger, criticism, and repercussions such as the loss of business or your reputation. However, by admitting and owning the mistake yourself, you take the power of blame away from the client. There is no question of who is at fault when you are claiming the mistake. When you do so, you immediately bypass the blame game, allowing you to focus on correcting the error.
- Offer reassurance.
Part of your apology must include reassurance that the mistake will be corrected. You do not need to go into details about how or why the mistake was made, unless the client asks for clarification. At this point in the conversation, you should simply reassure the client that you are doing everything in your power to correct the situation.
If you are accepting responsibility for a mistake you did not personally make, be careful not to speak in a negative manner about the employee who made the error. Tearing down your team won’t do you any favors or make your client feel confident in your company’s integrity. Resist the temptation to shred the offender’s reputation. Redirect the conversation to how you will correct the problem, instead of focusing on why it happened.
In addition, the reassurance must demonstrate your remorse. Your mistake may have cost others time, hassle, and money. By showing your remorse, you are acknowledging that you recognize the potential loss they may have suffered. Be sure to genuinely convey your regret at any pain or inconvenience you or your company caused.
- Make restitution.
Be prepared to offer a solution to the problem. Explain how you will correct the mistake, and what the time frame for the correction will be. In some cases, there may not be anything that you can do to correct an issue. When possible, however, find out what needs to be done and then make a plan to do it.
- Go beyond expectations.
Another way to resolve the problem is to admit your mistake, apologize, and then ask the customer what you can do in an attempt at restitution. There are a few reasons why you should do this. For one, the customer will often ask for less than you expect. Many times, the client simply wants an apology and an assurance that the problem will be fixed, or they may ask for a small discount or a free service—neither of which is inconvenient.
In addition, by asking how you can make the situation right, you make the client feel in control of the situation—they’re no longer the helpless victim. You also have the opportunity to go beyond their expectations. Once the client has “named their price,” go beyond it to demonstrate how much you value their business and how much you appreciate the opportunity to correct the mistake. Not only will you convey your remorse, you’ll likely solidify the relationship for the future.
Finally, instead of seeing a mistake as a failure, view it as an opportunity to grow. When you take responsibility for your mistakes, you stand out as a rarity. In today’s business culture, integrity is often difficult to find. Admitting your mistake, accepting responsibility, and taking steps to correct the error are all valuable ways of moving forward—no matter how big (or small) the mistake was. In this way, you can use your mistakes as stepping-stones for progress.