When you own and operate a small business there are always pressures on you and many days feel like you are walking on that proverbial high wire without a safety net.
The one thing that every business has in common is they all involve human beings and that means that sooner or later either you or a member of your team screws up.
You are having a bad day and treat a client shabbily. You overlook an important task or can’t get it accomplished on time. You make a mistake and it impacts another person’s business or life.
They are angry. They want it rectified, and in some cases even compensation.
You want the whole thing to just go away. You think they might be over-reacting.
But they are in your face and they aren’t going to forget or let it go.
Does any of that sound familiar? Welcome to the human race. 🙂
Here is where you take a very deep breath and remind yourself – “the only people that never make mistakes are those that never do anything.”
Screwing up is a fact of life in business. But, what do you do when you screw up?
And you don’t just do it after they’ve vented for half an hour and you just want to get rid of them.
You apologize as soon as you learn of the transgression that has resulted in your client not being treated right.
If you can, you even call them before they call you.
And you don’t just toss off “I’m sorry” and start with all the lame excuses.
You say to them, this has happened. You tell them you know it has happened and that it has impacted them badly.
You say: “I apologize. I know we blew it. I apologize personally and on behalf of my team. We were wrong and we are going to correct it. Tell me how I can help.”
Accept responsibility for the wrongdoing and apologize even before you start to make amends.
There is a psychological reason for this, even though your corporate lawyer will be whispering in your ear “don’t apologize, don’t take responsibility, don’t say you’re sorry,” because now you have to make amends.
That’s why lawyers don’t run your business. You do. You screwed up and you fix it.
But first you say you are sorry. It’s not just a social gesture of expected politeness.
In North American culture, it is a ritual of respect for the person you have wronged, and an expression of empathy that you are aware that your actions hurt them.
It tells the person you are aware you have a relationship, a kind of bond with them, and you messed up and damaged it. It lets them know you value the relationship and that you care enough to work to fix it.
Saying that you are sorry won’t make the error magically disappear, but it will go miles towards undoing the harm that your earlier mistake caused.
Scientists tell us that something happens to people physically and mentally when they receive an authentic apology.
First, their blood pressure goes down, even if they were really angry before they got the apology. Their heart rate decreases and their breathing steadies.
Second, the mental responses kick in. They see that you are suddenly human and aware of the consequences of your action. Deep in their hearts, they know there have been occasions where they screwed up too. A little part (sometimes a very little part) starts to have empathy for you.
They also feel respected. If you had not humbled yourself and apologized, they would not immediately know that you want to repair the damage to your relationship.
Then move on to the concrete business of fixing the mistake.
Before you start saying what you can do to repair the damage, ask them what they need or want to solve the problem. By encouraging them to be part of a creative solution, you are also ensuring that an element of control remains in their hands.
Once you come up with a clear idea of what you can do to help and it is reasonable for both of you, move mountains to get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Your lawyers and marketers are going to tell you to do this because you need to protect your brand and reduce the damage to it. You are really doing it because you know it’s the right thing to do and that’s how you would like to be treated. The customer can tell the difference.
I remember being told when I was first entering business that customers don’t leave you because you screw up. They leave you because you don’t fix it if you do.
We are all human and we all talk about how important relationship building is in today’s marketplace, but we rarely act on it.
I recall a few years ago I had been dealing with a firm who messed up an order and caused me a lot of unnecessary stress and a little embarrassment. They did apologize and made things right in the end. I continued to deal with them because they were especially diligent in ensuring I was looked after properly following their error..
Imagine my surprise a year after the initial screw-up occurred when I got a card in the mail with a $200 gift certificate to my favourite restaurant and a little hand-written note from the company president that said:
“A year ago this week we made a mistake that impacted you negatively. We are still sorry about that and we really appreciate that you let us work to make it right and win back your confidence. Please enjoy a night out tonight as we remember what we learned after that experience and how gracious you were in allowing us to rebuild our relationship. Thank-you.”
I was absolutely floored.
Now that’s what you can do when you screw up if you really want to turn an angry client into an ambassador.
I was especially impressed that they indicated they too had learned from the experience. It reminds me of the final part of the process when you do make a mistake.
When it is all over, when you have apologized and made peace with the client, take a time out and sit down and figure out how it happened and what process you can put in place to ensure it never happens again.
That’s how everyone comes out ahead from such an incident.
Thank you for your time. Until next time, take care.
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