What to Do When You Make a Mistake with a Client

                            If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be. — Yogi Berra

As a service provider, you likely take pride in your work. You aim to please your clients with your dazzling expertise and “surprise and delight” style of customer service.

Sadly, if you are in business long enough, you will eventually have a client who is neither surprised nor delighted with your services.

Protect your client relationship with this essential agreement.

That may mean that you have chosen to work with someone who is not a good fit for your business. You forgot about your ideal client and accidentally attracted your nightmare client. It happens and when it does, you are probably limited to two options (assuming you had that client sign a solid Client Service Agreement. You did, right?):

  1. Exercise your right to cancel the engagement and give them a refund,

  2. Grin, bear it and learn from it. And also never let it happen again.

But what about those situations where the client was a good fit but you failed to meet expectations? What about those dreaded situations where you, dare I say it, ACTUALLY MAKE A MISTAKE?

As much as you know your shit as a teacher, accountant, coach, consultant, nutritional expert or cat therapist, you are not perfect (that news is both shocking and heartbreaking, isn’t it?). You will eventually make a mistake. And it will abso-fucking-lutely suck.

But making a mistake will also be your opportunity to grow, as a human, as a professional and as a business owner.

You can choose to put your head in the sand and hide from the situation (not something I recommend because you will only piss your disgruntled client off more).

You can choose to deny any fault (this is the crowd favorite, in my experience, and is super duper lame). I’ve experienced this as a client of an accountant in the past and was incredibly disappointed in the whole “not my fault that we forgot to report all of the income from that thing you did last year on your taxes and therefore you got audited and therefore there is a big ass tax penalty you need to pay; oh, and we are not gonna help you fix it either” song and dance. It made me want to spit nails … in the direction of my former accountants. Also, not recommended.

Or, lastly, you can choose to be honest with your client and admit you made a mistake. You can take responsibility for your actions, like the Boss Bitch that you are, and do what is necessary to fix the mistake immediately, at no additional cost to your client. Yup, you are going to eat those costs and also work for free. Remember, how I told you it’s going to suck? Well, did I lie?!

Obviously, choose the third option. It may be tempting to hide behind other people–your staff, contractors, colleagues, that crappy software you purchased — but don't. This is your business. Sometimes you have to pay the cost to be the boss. (That’s right, I just threw in a little James Brown for you. Never say I don’t love you!).

Own your mistakes. It will endear you to your clients. Hope that the mistake, coupled with your honesty, is received with some compassion as is your offer to make it right. However, don't expect that it will be. Your client may be pissed. And rightfully so. Your client may also be the type of person to take advantage of such a situation and offer up a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime … er, mistake. Nevermind that. Still do what's right and chalk it up to a lesson learned.

Remember that those who are willing to accept the blame also get to enjoy the praise.  

Most importantly, never let an honest mistake shake your confidence. You are damn good at what you do, and you know it. You have far more praise in your inbox than negative feedback. You made a mistake? So what, shit happens. Nobody died (or almost died). Take responsibility, make it right, put systems in place to prevent it from happening again and get back to doing the damn thang.

Have you ever made a mistake with a client? How did you handle it? What did you do to prevent it from ever happening again?

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