Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Making Amends: Retaining Customers When You Have to Say You’re Sorry

By Rose Strong

Being in business, no matter what product or service you offer, you’re bound to make a mistake with a client or customer at some point. Whether you are a waitperson in a diner, a haberdasher selling top-of-the-line handmade suits, or a consultant offering professional services, there is a chance to make an error - and to have to fix it. When that happens, how you try to make amends makes a big difference.

Of course, each situation is unique, but here are a few recommendations:

  1. Tell your boss. If you’ve made a mistake that could be detrimental to a client relationship, the first person you should tell is your supervisor. It’s bound to come out and keeping the boss in the loop is probably very wise.
  2. Don’t blame others; don’t make excuses. Even if all the explanations are true or others were at fault, neither your boss nor your client cares. The focus should be on fixing the mistake, not explaining it away.
  3. Be transparent about the error. Admit it clearly and outright as soon as you know it has happened. Even if the client doesn’t know about it, call them and tell them – or work with your supervisor to tell them together. Honesty goes a long way to maintaining trust.
  4. Come up with a solution. When you come clean about the mistake, let your boss know you have a possible solution. It makes the sting a bit less painful knowing you’ve taken responsibility on managing the mistake and saving the client relationship. This article on Forbes.com explains that fixing isn’t always enough, but it’s a start.
  5. Apologize to the client and anyone else affected. Although this seems like a no-brainer, too many businesses never actually apologize for an error. When you do apologize, do so sincerely. A genuine expression of regret may be all your customer is seeking.

Part of life is to know that you’re going to make mistakes. Being prepared and having a game plan to handle tricky situations before they happen is part of crisis management, whether the crisis is huge or small. As this article from 99u.com explains, delivering authenticity in your apology to your clients is the key to de-escalating the situation and keeping a mistake from becoming a full-blown crisis.

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