Bohemian Business
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Bohemian Business

Never Tell a Client, “I’m Sorry.”

Instead, make things right, and quick.

Krzysztof Pluta, Pixabay

When you make a mistake with your client, fix it quick, and make it obvious.

But never say you’re sorry. There is nothing a client hates more than that ugly phrase.

A valued client called me to tell me his team — people we had never worked with before — were disappointed by one of my consultants. He had not sufficiently communicated with them and had not appeared to live up to their expectations for the first draft of a very large proposal. This company was paying me consulting fees to deliver the highest quality of service, make their jobs easier, and relieve them of stressful brainwork.

I knew my associate was not accustomed to staying in continual touch with clients. Normally he worked behind the scenes while I managed client relations. He needed to learn that client satisfaction resides in perception. Even if you have nothing important to say, the value is in the connection, in the communicating itself. He had done so well with other similar proposals and I had full faith in his ability to deliver, but if you do not have a presence during the first few days of a critical, high-pressure project, clients get nervous.

I was instantly on the phone with him and he was mortified. We discussed the issues, nailed them down, and agreed on our solution. We had to make a big deal about it, and go overboard compensating. Our client needed to know how committed we were to their success, and when you make a mistake you can’t pretend you didn’t. You have to eat a certain decent amount of humble pie.

Now keep in mind that the client did not need to call me at all. They could have mumbled and grumbled to themselves and simply fired us. But goodwill over the years builds trust. He knew if he called me I would do everything to fix it. For this I was extremely thankful.

I called back the client and left a message thanking him and telling him how we were going to deal with it and that we would do it immediately. I called the other two members of the team to discuss the issues, and my consultant followed suit. By the end of the day we had made a very big deal out of it, made it obvious that it was our Number One priority and we would stop at nothing to right the wrongs.

After producing a 500-page proposal for a government contract in seven days, we showed how committed we were to this team, and they expressed enthusiastic gratitude for our labor. We had not lost a client: we had won one.

Notice in the story above, we never said, “Oh, I am so sorry.” In business, love means never having to say you’re sorry. We never wrote notes saying, “I truly apologize for my oversight and promise it will never happen again.”

Yuck. Do you really think your client wants to hear that?

I never, ever say I’m sorry to a client. I never, ever use the word apologize. I simply fix the problem.

Free-photos, Pixabay

“But what if they are really, really upset?”

Listen carefully, patiently. Don’t be defensive. If they say something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Resist any temptation to get adversarial. Then, when it’s your turn, validate all their concerns. Focus on their responses, their interpretations. Talk about the facts. Then state your point of view, using words like “I understand,” “I appreciate,” “I can sympathize.” If something has to be resolved, commit to the action and be specific, making sure they are happy with the solution.

By the time you’re finished, all their anger or nervousness has dissipated. And you never said sorry.

This doesn’t mean you are callous. Asking for forgiveness is appropriate if it’s a personal, emotional, or physical thing. If I happen to bump into someone as I’m opening a door and their hot coffee spills all over their arms, inflicting them with second-degree burns, I would say, “I am so, so sorry.”

Saying sorry is an emotional response and usually applies when there is nothing else you can do. Don’t use it for business. You’ll find that the other techniques for problem resolution will enhance your relationship and forge new channels of communication and understanding. Saying sorry won’t do that. Saying sorry often closes doors.

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