I was at Fred Meyer today getting some storage bins and three of the lids slipped off the shelf and clattered to the floor in three different directions. I halfheartedly tried to catch one, but for the most part I just let them fall. I said “D’oh!” under my breath and looked sheepishly at a fellow shopper nearby and started to pick them up. He surprised me by saying, “I’m glad that happened to you and not me because I probably wouldn’t have handled it as gracefully!”. He helped me pick up the lids, I thanked him, and walked off to the dairy aisle with a grin on my face.
Mistakes connect us all as humans.
There is always the urge in business to pretend that we are perfect. I struggle with this too. But at times when things do fall apart – and they always do eventually – what matters most is that you are honest and clear about it.
I run a web hosting business, and while I’d love to have 100% uptime (and we do have really really good uptime), sometimes stuff happens. Servers are complicated entities and eventually something goes wrong. The best lesson I got in how mistakes can build trust was this conversation a few years ago:
Me: This is Emma.
Client: Did you know the server is down?
Me: Yes, we are working on the problem. I’m not sure when it will be back up but we are working on it right now and it will be up as soon as possible.
Client: Great, I’m so glad I chose you as a host.
Me: What? Really? But…your website is down right now.
Client: Yes, but you are giving me a straight answer about it. You didn’t try to act like it wasn’t happening. You always tell me the truth about what is going on.
Me: Oh yeah. I guess I do. I never thought of it that way.
Working through sticky situations builds trust.
I read a study once that clients rate their work as more rewarding over a 6 month period within a client-therapist relationship when something goes “wrong” and the issue is worked through than when there were no interpersonal issues to resolve between the therapist and the client. Mistakes and working through them create trust, bonding, and a shared connection. There is a mutual sense of accomplishment that adds value and investment to the interaction.
So next time you make a mistake, try thinking of it as an opportunity to build trust with your client by demonstrating that you are responsible and honest – rather than using it as an opportunity to criticize yourself or hide out from your client.
You don’t need to grovel or give them tons of free stuff to apologize.
Mistakes do happen. I think you can over-do an apology which can make it seem like the problem was even worse than it really was, or it can give the other person the job of making you feel less guilty.
Acknowledge what happened, communicate that you understand the impact on the other person, and let them know what you have done to fix the issue. This communicates that you are responsible and that you care about the quality of your service; not that you are guilty and wrong.
Sometimes this can be difficult when the person on the other end is really mad and blaming you. But the same principles apply. Sometimes people freak out when something goes wrong because of their stuff. But you don’t have to make it your stuff. Just be clear, calm, honest, and responsible. They will eventually calm down too. The most important thing is to not escalate yourself to match them and to not take their reaction personally. If you can find it in yourself, try to empathize. Think to yourself “From their perspective, they are really freaked out right now, they are scared, and also perhaps they had a bad day”. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
When all else fails, stay connected to yourself .
Sometimes it is necessary to set boundaries with clients and be clear when something is not your responsibility to fix, even if they think otherwise. Try to not be defensive, but be calm, clear, and firm instead. Sometimes it is not possible to create connection with a client right away while doing this, and the best you can do is stay in connection with yourself – you are beautiful and doing the best you can in each moment. You want to succeed and help your clients, and occassionally things do get missed. You are human. Overall, you do a great job. Don’t let someone else’s pain make you forget your own beauty.
When you can come from this place of understanding, forgiveness. compassion, and respect for yourself, you will be less likely to be defensive, and more likely to be able to be calm, clear, and compassionate toward your client. And your client will (probably) come to meet you there.