Clients have high expectations of us and rightly so. And I think that most companies (and employees) bust a hump to meet and exceed those expectations. But sooner or later, we're going to mess up.
It's inevitable. We're human beings and we screw up.
Whether we catch our own mistake or the client points it out — how we respond in those first few minutes will make or break the experience. I have always said — it's not the screw up, it's how we handle the screw up that matters.
Because we work our tails off to please and serve our clients — when we mess up, we're embarrassed and we are highly motivated to correcting the problem. So we go into "Fix It Mode."
Oops…we just made it worse. Yup… worse.
The client doesn't want you to fix it. Not yet. First, they want you to feel their pain. They want to know that you are sorry (you cannot substitute words here…the words are: "I am very sorry…") and that you are upset that you have let them down. In other words, it's time to eat some humble pie.
It's not that the client wants you to grovel or beat yourself up. But they're feeling pretty lousy at this point. And they want to know you're in it with them. They want you to feel as badly about it as they do. This is less about blame and much more about reassurance that when things go wrong — you give a damn.
Then and only then, can you go into "Fix It Mode." If you go immediately to fixing the problem and you're all logical and left brained — to them it feels like you don't care. You're just trying to get out of the jam you find yourself in. When you go right into "Fix It Mode" — it feels to the client like it's about you, not them.
And they really need it to be about them. (As it should be.)
But once you've demonstrated that you're sitting right there beside them and are feeling as badly as they are — then you can roll right into your creative problem solving and fix whatever is broken.
Ultimately, they do want you to solve it. But not before you've felt it. So remember…heart and then head.
Wow I wish more people would understand this. It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, when you deal with the public in some way problems will arise. You are right on target. People want understanding and validation when they have a problem. Those of us in any position of leadership will never be good problem solvers unless we understand this.
So so so so so very true!
I have tried SO hard over the years in sales and service to become comfortable saying “I’m very sorry”. Now, I can stop, realise that I’ve done and share the experience with the client – it becomes my challenge to make them love my business and I again.
Thank you for pointing out this SO pivotal part of doing business – it bugs the crap outta me when someone screws up and brushes me off. Say you’re sorry – I’ll respect you and you have a chance to win me back.
Don’t say you’re sorry and you won’t get me back… sorry!
Awesome message – thanks for hitting the nail squarely on the head.
Excellent post Drew! You are so right on this. I can relate your concept back to my own experiences in several industries, and can say for certain I’ll bear this in mind for when it inevitably happens next.
It is one of the hardest things to have to do, to go back and eat some humble pie, but not everything in life is pleasant or easy to do.
Being genuine, authentic, understanding and displaying some empathy is definitely called for. You learn this when you are trained as a psychologist or for a serious customer service position.
It puts you into the client’s frame of mind and communicates to them, first and foremost, that what they feel is valid. Furthermore, they view you as someone who understands how they feel.
Then when it comes time to do the “fixing” they are in a more receptive and forgiving state of mind. Except for those few really miserable people who are never satisfied. With them you do the same things, it’s just so much harder.
Great article, thanks for reminding us all of some fundamental techniques for dealing with our clients/readers and customers.
Great reminder! More importantly, demonstrate empathy – the ability to listen and articulate what the customer is feeling and experiencing. And, it has to be sincere. When we touch our clients in a human way, most people respond in kind. That’s what people want – to be treated as a human being and recognize the emotions behind the mistake and how it affected me. Thanks.
Drew, the following is from a newsletter I received from Jeffrey Gitomer…do you agree or disagree with him?
After reading and answering this question I wondered how many of you would get it correct. Let me know whether you chose A, B, C or D. You should be able to click on an answer and Jeffrey Gitomer will explain. Good luck!
Your product or service has consistently been poor for about a month. Your customer is frustrated and is threatening to pull out. You should:
A. Fix the internal problem, then communicate with the customer what has been resolved.
B. Talk to them to find out where the problems exist and assure them you will solve the problems.
C. Tell your boss to do something quickly or you will lose the business.
D. Tell them you have nothing to do with the problem but you will try to fix it.
Fantastic post again Drew, and very good advice.
Too often, we instantly go into problem solving mode without even thinking about how that detachment affects our clients.
I’ll certainly be giving it more thought.
otherwise it just looks like you’re covering up or trying to hide something, or that it was never important to you in the first place.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
Yes, this is so true! Too many of us find it difficult to eat humble pie and actually say the words I am sorry – AND mean it. What a great post to end the week on – we all make mistakes, its how you handle that critical moment. Thanks Drew.
great blog and very, very true….thanks!
Thank you all for adding to the conversation. You’re spot on — people wanted to be treated like human beings. They want our empathy and they want us to share in the experience/pain of the experience with them.
If we can first master that — the fix becomes both easier and less important.
While I often enjoy and agree with Gitomer, this time I am going to have to disagree. I would never wait until I fixed the problem before dealing with the customer’s hurt.
So I would choose B (I know Gitomer said A is the right answer) but with a caveat. I wouldn’t talk to them about our internal issue. They could care less about that. But I would talk about what our internal issue did to them. Then…I would fix the problem and report back to the client that it was resolved.
Which did you choose?