Whether you are a freelancer, entrepreneur or head of a successful company, screw ups will happen. That’s the ugly truth; there’s no way around it, and at some point in your career you are bound to experience one.
Maybe your project is late because of unavoidable circumstances or perhaps you misunderstood instructions and delivered a project that isn’t up to par. The bottom line is, you will eventually have to face that dreaded thing ̶ an unhappy client.
So how do you deal with these unpleasant situations without losing a client? Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, there is no sure formula or method that can guarantee a positive outcome. However, the way you choose to deal with the problem can make all the difference.
Always admit that you made a mistake
This is a tough one, and the thought of telling a well-paying client that you or your company made a serious mistake and botched their project is enough to make you feel like catching the next flight to Timbuktu. However, as much as you’d like to crawl under the table and pretend it didn’t happen, or come up with some lame excuse, you have to face the problem head on.
Everyone appreciates honesty and clients are no different. Don’t try to cover up the fact that a mistake was made on your end, because this will only make you seem unreliable and incapable. If your project is going to be late, call the client in advance and let them know, rather than pretending all is well and feigning ignorance when the inevitable angry phone call comes through.
If a project has been botched due to a technical failure or misunderstanding, don’t try to shift the blame over to someone else. Calling your client up with a “my secretary forgot to mail it to you” is the grownup equivalent of “my dog ate my homework.”
Open and honest communication is the best way to deal with a project that has gone wrong, and the sooner you get around to communicating about it the better. Don’t wait for your client to contact you, get on the phone and start dealing with it as soon as you can.
Try to find a solution as soon as possible
After admitting to your mistake and apologising profusely, it’s time to do some damage control. How bad is the situation? Is there any way you can make it right? Obviously if you have delivered a project late, there is no way to “fix” the problem, but perhaps you could offer the client a discount on the next project.
It is often better to come up with a solution to the problem before you call your client up to tell them that their project died along with your hard drive, or that the package you FedExed over ended up in Alaska because you ticked the wrong box on the form.
Tell them you screwed up, but that you are working to get the project on their desk by the noon, or that although the timely headlining article you were meant to write hasn’t been completed on time, you can turn it into a feature article, which will still be useful at a later date.
Coming up with a solution to the problem yourself is preferable to picking up the phone and saying, “the project has been botched, what should I do now?” You need to be able to restore the client’s trust in you, and passing on the bad news without any advice or solution is not going to inspire confidence.
Put yourself in the client’s shoes and try to be a part of the solution rather than just the problem itself. Clear your schedule and go above and beyond to make it right. Clients (most of them anyway) are reasonable people and will appreciate the extra effort you are putting in to clear up the problem.
Krisca Te works with Open Colleges, Australia’s leading provider of TAFE courses equivalent and distance education. When not working, you can find her actively participating in local dog show events – in support of her husband.