Oops, My Bad!

5 Ways To Fix Mistakes

Customer ServiceA mistake can ruin a client relationship. Here's how to recover if your company makes one.

Unfortunately, no one wants to admit it when they mess up. If you're a business leader, the temptation to avoid taking responsibility is huge. After all, your customers are paying you to get it right, so the last thing you want is for them to know that you've made a mistake, right?

Wrong. When your company admits to mistakes in a constructive way, you won't damage your brand in the way you feared. In fact, you have a valuable opportunity to gain respect and loyalty.

You and your company are not judged by how well you do when you're good, but by how well you do when you're bad. The fact is, every company makes mistakes. Denying that they've happened usually exacerbates and magnifies an already awkward situation, because chances are, you aren't fooling anyone and you appear insincere. In fact, trying to dodge responsibility can hurt your reputation more than simply owning up to the mistake in the first place.

Honestly and humbly admitting to missteps often defuses a tense situation instead of magnifying it. And as time passes, they say, people tend to remember more clearly how you handled the mistake as opposed to what it was. Here are five ways to turn mistakes into an opportunity to strengthen a client relationship.

Cop to it. Yes, it's uncomfortable to admit that your company did something wrong. Uttering that mea culpa involves swallowing your pride and acknowledging that you are not, in fact, perfect. But the sooner you admit to the error, the more you reduce the drama …and the faster you can move on to the next, more important stage: what you are going to do about the situation.

Imperfection demonstrates a level of authenticity, vulnerability and humanity with which we all can identify. Plus, it's harder to be angry with someone who says, "You're right – I messed up," than with someone who insists the fault doesn't lie with him … even though you know it does. And it's difficult – if not downright impossible – to make any constructive progress if the responsible party refuses to admit there's a problem.

Recognize how it happened. It's vital to investigate how and why an error occurred so that you can fix the faulty procedure or process. All of your employees should be encouraged to report mistakes quickly, so everybody at the company can work together to ensure that they're not repeated. Real progress in progressive companies is often built on the backs of mistakes and the improvements they spark.

Aim, don't blame. What happens when a mistake involving your company really can be traced to someone else? While it's easy (and temporarily satisfying) to point your finger and say, "Not my fault!" the truth is, if it happened on your watch and you are accountable for the finished product, you ultimately share the blame in the customer's eyes. In this situation, get to the bottom of what happened and aim your focus on what you and your company can do on your end to prevent the situation from reoccurring.

Write it down. If you successfully resolve a negative situation that was sparked by an error, and then rub your hands together and continue with business as usual, then you're making a second misstep. This is the opportunity to create new policies and procedures. It's crucial to take the lessons you learn and physically make them part of your company's policies. This might mean writing a new procedure, checklist or sign-off sheet, or drafting a new clause in a contract.

Resolve that it won't happen again. Along with your apology, assure your client that it won't happen again. Voluntarily describe how the mistake happened and what changes you are implementing to prevent its reoccurrence. And most importantly, tell them how you and your company are going to make things right. Most people will appreciate your thoughtfulness, resolve, and the action you are taking. And often, handling an error in this way will reinforce the fact that you are, ultimately, a trustworthy company that can be relied upon.