You Screwed Up With a Customer. Now What?

By Dawn Harger

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.   You’re going to make a mistake with a customer.  Maybe you’ll process something incorrectly, maybe you won’t be able to fulfill a promise, or maybe you’ll just forget to do something.  Yikes!  You feel terrible and wish you never had to talk to the customer again, but you know that’s not an option.  Now what?  What can you do?  Here are a few things to consider…

Forgive yourself!  The first step is to realize that we are all human, and at one time or another, we are all going to make a mistake.  Don’t beat yourself up, as it’s just not worth it.  At a time like this, don’t forget all that you have done right.  I imagine it far outweighs the bad?  Chin up.  Just accept the situation and know that you will get through this if you handle things right from here on out.

Take ownership.  Yes, forgive yourself when you screw up, but also take responsibility.  Don’t try to put the blame on others.  That usually doesn’t get you anywhere towards resolution and will only derail your focus on resolution.  Have you ever dealt with a situation where someone made a mistake and all you heard were excuses?  All I know is that, when I was on the receiving end, it only frustrated me even more.  So don’t do it with your customers!

Communicate to the customer ASAP!  The biggest mistake you can make is waiting for the customer to come to you, or waiting until the last minute to reach out.  While we all dread it, the best thing to do is get in the front of your client as soon as possible.  The customer will appreciate you telling them about the error before they find out themselves. This will go a long way in keeping your relationship and in keeping their frustration to a minimum.  In the world of customer success, being proactive is key.  That doesn’t change when it comes to mistakes.

Have a solution for the customer.  You’ve taken responsibility and you’re letting the customer know about the situation, but you can’t just stop there.  What can you do to make things right?  Along with coming clean on your mistake, you should also have a solution or course of action to get things back on track.  Don’t just tell them you screwed up; tell them how you’re going to fix it.  

Don’t let it happen again!  After you realize the mistake, start thinking about what you can do to avoid it from happening again.  Have you ever heard the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”?  That’s how I think of mistakes.  It can happen once, but a second time is a serious concern.  You need to learn from the mistake and take action to make sure there is never a repeat.  Do you need to add a step to your process?  Do you need a 2nd pair of eyes?  Do you need to be better organized with your tasks?  Mistakes signify that something could probably be done better, so really take a look at the whole process and determine where things need to change.

Say you are sorry!  While this is the last item on this list, don’t save it until the end.  Saying you are sorry to a customer goes a long way.  You may even think of putting it in a hand-written note.  That personal touch and extra step will let the customer know that you take your error seriously and that you really do care. 

Now you’ve gotten past this uncomfortable situation and hopefully you’ve learned from your mistake.  If you follow these guidelines, you will be in a better position to keep the business.  Mistakes are going to happen.  It’s how you address these mistakes that will really define your success with your customers. 

The Success League is a consulting firm that works with customer success leaders who want to unlock the retention and revenue potential in their team.  We partner with success teams to gather and present customer data in a way that allows them to advocate for customer needs and drive true change in their organization.

Dawn Harger - With over 10 years of managing account management teams, Dawn has found her niche in defining and implementing measures that equate to customer success.  Her passion is creating teams of customer advocates and consultants, while mentoring those that cross her path.  Her prior background in operations also allows her a broader picture of the business, thus giving her additional insight into a company’s strategy in retaining and growing their customer base.  Dawn works for VerticalResponse, holds a BA in Marketing from San Jose State University and MBA from St. Mary’s College.