• You need to have a plan for when you make mistakes

  • Acknowledge the mistake

  • Take responsibility

  • Be proactive to offer a solution

Mistakes are inevitable in a small business. You can be the best business that’s ever existed, and something can go wrong. An order gets lost. There are shipping problems. Whatever it is, eventually a client is going to confront you with a problem. Whether it’s your fault, an employee’s fault, or the client’s fault, how you handle it can make the difference between losing or keeping a client for the long haul.

The first step for handling a mistake is to have a plan for it. Since mistakes are inevitable, every business should have policies that empower employees to handle a mistake and solve the problem. You don’t want to have to make up how to solve the problem in the middle of a crisis. A little planning can make handling a mistake much easier.

How To Handle Mistakes You Make

When you make a mistake, the process to handle it is relatively simple, though it can be difficult to do. 

First, acknowledge that a mistake was made. It’s a good idea to let the customer know that you understand exactly what the problem is and that it’s your fault. You should consider repeating back the complaint in summary form so your client knows that you understand. There are some easy phrases to show that you’re listening:

  • So I know I understand what happened…

  • I want to make sure I’m hearing you correctly…

  • So what you’re saying is…

Second, take responsibility for your mistake. Politicians have mastered the non-apology. They say things like, “Mistakes were made,” or “I’m sorry if you were offended” when they really should just say, “I’m sorry.” When you take responsibility for your mistake, you let the client know that their problem is real and that you know it was your fault. You can explain why it happened, but make sure that you don’t use that to deflect blame.

Third, have a proactive plan to handle the mistake. This requires some preparation before the error happens. You’ll need to come up with a general policy for correcting your mistakes so you don’t have to scramble in the heat of the moment. Your client will appreciate it when you offer to fix the problem right away rather than waiting for them to demand a solution from you. 

How To Handle Mistakes Your Coworkers Make

The dynamic changes a little when the mistake happens because of a coworker or employee. While the error isn’t your fault, the process to handle it remains much the same.

One temptation is to deflect blame from yourself to the employee or coworker. No one likes taking responsibility for a problem when it’s not their fault, but the customer doesn’t care who actually made the error. The customer only cares that there’s a problem.

Leaders take responsibility for the actions of their team. They don’t deflect blame downwards, because the leaders are accountable for the actions of their team members. Acknowledge the mistake, take responsibility for it, and create a proactive plan to solve the problem.

The more people in your company, the more you’ll need to establish policies to empower your sales team to create proactive solutions. Clear guidelines for customer service employees can help them fix errors quickly.

How To Handle Mistakes Your Clients Make

Sometimes clients make mistakes. They can send the wrong file, order the wrong thing, or just have the wrong impression about the job they wanted done. 

The best way to handle mistakes from your clients is to avoid them. Clear communication with the client about what they are ordering and what they’ll get is key. Present the client with a contract or order summary with a clear outline of the order, price, and delivery timeline. When there’s a document that says clearly what to expect, it avoids problems in the first place. 

But that doesn’t help if a client is upset about an order on which they made the mistake. Preparation is key. Develop a process that you can use to empower your sales team or prepare yourself for dealing with mistakes. How flexible can you be? How much can you bend to accommodate your clients? If you are prepared for this kind of mistake, you can empower your people to help clients through this difficult process.

Most of all, just remember to be kind throughout it. Clients have their own stresses weighing them down, and mistakes they make can cause all sorts of problems in their own lives and businesses. If you can respond to their stress with kindness, it can help keep them as a client in the long term.



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