“How Do I Bounce Back After Botching a Customer’s Order?”

There is a lot of potential for error when you specialize in custom work. Royce Leather Goods (asi/52390) found out the hard way a few years ago when it bungled a corporate order worth $60,000, using the wrong type of leather for the requested custom product. The company was able to salvage the embarrassing situation by acting quickly, complementing the product with “value added” features like its GPS tracker and free special gift boxes, says Billy Bauer, marketing director at Royce. “We ended up losing money on the order, but saved the customer,” he adds.

How you respond to blunders can make or break an account, demonstrating to your client whether you really care about their satisfaction. It’s important to apologize and acknowledge your role in the error, but being too defensive can be counterproductive. Instead, concentrate on how to fix the issue. “The key is to be action-oriented and focus on the future,” Bauer says. “You have to respond quickly before people make judgments about your competence or expertise. You need to get on top of it, get ahead of it and deal with it.”

In order to get on top of a mistake, it’s important first to own it and determine how the slipup occurred. It’s not about placing blame, but rather tracking down where the gap in service happened and putting new procedures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. “Mistakes can be an indication that somewhere along the line, your system or your machinery isn’t working,” says Jennifer Martin, owner of San Francisco-based Zest Business Consulting.

Be honest and transparent with your client about what happened. “The minute you realize a mistake has been made, you should start to rectify it and contact the client,” says Diane Helbig, a Cleveland-based sales trainer and owner of Seize This Day Coaching. “You gain a tremendous amount of trust when you are honest.”

In rectifying a mistake, it’s a good idea to follow the platinum rule, rather than the golden rule, Martin says. “Instead of treating clients as you like to be treated, ask them what would make them happy,” she explains. Helbig agrees with this approach: “Sometimes we go beyond what is necessary in the customer’s eyes, or we don’t go far enough.” If you ask customers directly how they’d like the situation resolved, you signal concern for their well-being. Usually, Helbig adds, the client just wants the mistake corrected, along with perhaps a small upgrade or freebie. It’s generally a good idea to eat the cost of fixing the error; yes, you’ll lose money in the short-term, but losing the account permanently would cost you a lot more down the line.

The key when dealing with mistakes is not to panic. “Think of mistakes as opportunities, not roadblocks,” says Vladimir Gendelman, founder and CEO of Company Folders, a Michigan-based presentation folder printing company. He adds: “If you play your cards right and handle the situation appropriately, a customer who feels that you’ve taken their experience seriously and made a point to learn from it will actually end up happier with your business than if the mistake had never occurred in the first place.”  – Theresa Hegel

Dealing With Angry Clients

After learning that an order has been botched, a client will often be – understandably – upset. Here are some tips on defusing a tense situation.

  • Listen. When people are angry, their first desire is usually to be heard, says sales trainer Diane Helbig. Rather than trying to jump in right away with an excuse, explanation or solution, hear the client out first.
  • Use names. Address the client directly and openly, to help keep the conversation civil. “It’s a little harder to be mad at someone when they keep using your name in conversation,” says business consultant Jennifer Martin.
  • Apologize for the error. “Be transparent, candid and own up to the error,” says Billy Bauer of Royce Leather Goods (asi/52390). “Even if it was a group mistake, acknowledge your role in it.” But, he adds, don’t go overboard with apologies, and resist the urge to go on the defensive.
  • Lay out your plan of action. Based on the client’s complaints and what you can afford, explain to the customer how you will fix the mistake and ensure that it will never happen again.
  • Follow up. After reprinting and taking the other steps determined in your action plan, follow up with wronged clients to ensure you’ve earned back their good graces. –TH