What To Do When You Mess Up With a Customer

By: Andrea Lotz Friday December 11, 2015 comments

It’s every small business owner’s nightmare: you messed up big time with a customer. Suddenly every second matters as you try to make things right, retain the customer, and keep your reputation intact.

Unfortunately, every single small business owner out there will make a mistake with a customer. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad business owner! The way you own and apologize for your mistakes is what determines whether you’ll survive those inevitable slip-ups, dropped balls, and misunderstandings.

5 business owners were courageous enough to share what they do when they make mistakes with a customer. They gave some great advice that any business owner in any industry can follow when they mess up and need to start repairing the damage.

1. Open Up an Honest Conversation

Michael Bremmer, CEO of TelecomQuotes.com

The worst part of making a mistake is probably the moment when you realize it. Your thoughts start racing, your body reacts, and regret fills you. But these emotions aren’t serving you, and might actually cause you to make a bad decision.

“First, take a moment to collect yourself,” said Michael Bremmer, CEO of TelecomQuotes.com. “Panic and fear is your enemy that clouds your thinking.”

Concealing information about a mistake is the surest way to make the problem worse, so Michael advises getting right into the problem.

“The thing you don''t want to talk about, IS the thing you need to talk about, so I just address the issue directly,” he said.

"The thing you don''t want to talk about, IS the thing you need to talk about." [Tweet this]

He recommends starting by clarifying the scope of the problem: “You DO NOT want to assume.” You can do this by asking clarifying questions, honestly sharing your mistakes, and sincerely trying to see things from the customer’s viewpoint.

Keep the conversation constructive. Michael suggests focusing on the “highest and best possible end result,” working with the client to “determine the next steps to ‘make it right.’”

2. Stay Completely Transparent

Harry Ein, Owner of Perfection Promo

Harry Ein, owner of a promotional merchandise company called Perfection Promo, builds trust with clients by being totally transparent, especially when there’s a problem.

He shared a story of a time when a brand new customer’s t-shirt order for a product launch was delayed at the factory Perfection Promo had secured for the order. Worse, it was two days before the deadline. Worst, it was leading up to a 3-day holiday weekend.

“I immediately let my client know of the issue,” Harry said. “It took some scrambling, and a few strong connections, but I was able to find a printer who could do a rush order and have shirts completed by the very next day. I personally picked up the order at 11:30am, drove an hour and a half, and hand-delivered the package just in time for the launch event.”

Because Harry kept the client updated throughout the entire process, the relationship wasn’t damaged by the mistake. In fact, they were able to earn the client’s loyalty and respect.

“I have incredibly strong relationships with my clients, and they are very loyal,” Harry said. “I am certain that this is because of my commitment to being an open, honest and transparent partner, no matter what.”

"Be an open, honest and transparent partner, no matter what." [Tweet this]

3. Keep Your Head Up

Annie Kip, Style Consulting & Charisma Coaching

It’s very important to say you’re sorry and make it right when you make a mistake with a client, but Annie Kip, a style and charisma consultant, believes you can take apologies too far.

“I focus on giving my client reassurance that they can count on me to make it right, without falling on my sword over the mistake,” she said. “My goal is to fix the problem and preserve my client''s faith in me, and I think over-apologizing can damage my client''s trust.”

The key is striking a balance of being apologetic without increasing the drama. According to Annie, that means focusing on the client’s experience and desired outcome rather than on the problem.

“I make sure I use language which shows that I understand my client''s experience of the mistake, while keeping the mistake as objective as possible. I use phrases such as ‘This is so disappointing,’ or ‘I am so sorry this did not come out the way we wanted it to.’”

Annie recognizes the importance of staying professional and collected in the face of a mistake.

“Inside, I absolutely cringe when I mess up, but outwardly, I hold my head up and dive in to turn a mistake into an opportunity to show my client how valuable I am to them,” she said. “Much as I dread them, problems give me an opportunity to show what I am made of!”

"Problems give me an opportunity to show what I am made of!" [Tweet this]

4. Own More Than Your Part

Martina Skelly, CEO of YellowSchedule

Martina Skelly, CEO of scheduling software YellowSchedule, shared a story where her company accepted more than their share of the responsibility for a mistake.

“We had an incident during the year where a customer of ours accidentally input their client''s credit card details for the monthly subscription fee for YellowSchedule,” said Martina. “By the time we got to updating it, another month''s subscription had automatically been deducted from their client''s card rather than their own.”

YellowSchedule wasn’t responsible for the mistake at all, but they still stepped up to make it right.

“We realized that it put our customer in a very awkward position with their long-term client,” Martina said. “We wanted to keep them happy and make sure that they didn''t have egg on their face with their own client.”

They started by purchasing $50 in Amazon credit for both their user and the user’s client who was wrongly charged. For the voucher sent to the client, the “From” field was filled out with the YellowSchedule user’s name.

“Our customer was really happy with the gesture and reported that his client was also very appreciative and that we had earned him extra brownie points,” Martina said. “$100 was a very small amount to successfully achieve that.”

"Our customer was really happy with the gesture." [Tweet this]

5. Give Them Options

Ivete Tecedor, Co-Owner of Gotham Quilts

When you get into a bad situation with a customer, the best way to resolve the problem isn’t always clear, to you or the customer. That’s why it’s so important to lay out some options.

For Ivete Tecoder, co-owner of Gotham Quilts, giving options to resolve a mistake is part of the company’s culture of treating customers like friends.

“We''re transparent and communicative, use plain language, (‘I''m sorry’ instead of ‘We apologize’) and offer them options so that we can resolve the issue in a way that works for them,” Ivete said.

She shared an example where a product that was discounted as a great holiday gift for quilters was backordered at the manufacturer. The product wouldn’t arrive in time for holiday gifting. One customer was impacted.

“As soon as we found this out, I contacted the customer, explained the situation, apologized, and gave her 3 options,” Ivete said. The customer could take a discount on another in-stock item that could ship immediately, get a full refund, or wait for the item to come in.

“She chose the one that worked best for her and was not at all upset. She even thanked me!” said Ivete. “Treating people like they are your friend works great for us.”

"Treating people like they are your friend works great for us." [Tweet this]

What do you do when you make a mistake with a customer? Let me know in the comments!

Andrea Lotz

About the Author: Andrea Lotz

Andrea is the resident writer for AllProWebTools. She loves to write about just about anything, especially small businesses, sustainability, and whatever is new and upcoming on the horizon.  She lives in Fort Collins and spends her free time cycling, welding, cooking, and playing ukulele. 

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