Recovering From Mistakes Restores Trust

by Bette Price, CMC

   As much as we try, no one is perfect; we all make mistakes. Even our customers make mistakes. We can recover from honest mistakes. When we do, we restore trust and often strengthen relationships because of it. But, when we deny or defend the mistake, we may never recover. Here are some simple steps to consider the next time an honest mistake happens:

Initiate communication

   As soon as you realize that a mistake has happened, take the initiative and contact your customer. Face to face is best, but a phone call is better than nothing. E-mail or fax is simply not an appropriate form of communication in this instance. Even if the customer is unaware of the mistake, it's to your advantage to expose the situation early. You may want to stall, thinking that the mistake may never be noticed, or that by the time it is, it's too late to do much about it. But, that's a risky step. Sooner or later the mistake will surface and it's best not to be blindsided when it does. All customer service studies show that when mistakes are handled effectively, customers are very forgiving.


   If an apology is appropriate, by all means extend one. However, only if you extend it sincerely. Before apologizing, first admit that the mistake was yours. Denying and blaming makes you defensive and diminishes any apology you extend. It also delays the resolution process. Even if other people were involved in the mistake, don't make them the fall guys. Visit with them before going to your customer, get resolve on their part, and present a team apology, accepting overall accountability as the direct customer contact.

Remain calm and professional

   Your customer will watch your reaction to the problem. How calmly and professionally you handle the mistake will influence whether the customer believes this was an isolated mistake or an indication of what's to come. This is time for your integrity and courage to shine.

Find a resolve

   Is it possible to undo the damage? How major is the mistake? How costly is the mistake? Can you redo or replace? At what cost? Take these and other appropriate questions into consideration and let them guide you to the appropriate resolve. Some mistakes cannot be totally resolved, yet your quick acknowledgement, sincere apology, and personal accountability can make a huge difference between restoring the customer's trust and losing it forever.

Learn from the mistake

   When all is said and done, you're not done. Now is the time to do a postmortem of the mistake. Ask yourself, "Why did this happen?" Not once, but four to five times to force enough answers to get to the true cause. Then think about what could have been done to avoid the mistake. More information, better follow-through, more up-front questions, better judgment, better timing? All of this will help you to understand the mistake and make adjustments to your own mode of operation to avoid future mistakes. This analysis is incredibly valuable because failing to learn from your mistakes will put you at risk of repeating the mistake and that will definitely put your career in jeopardy.
   In any customer relationship there is nothing more important than trust. So, if you happen to blow it, use these steps for a quick and positive recovery.