I’m Sorry, but. . .
Kevin, had a horrible week. He found out that his company was over 90 days on paying some third-party providers for a project with his largest client. The third-party companies were selected by, and considered partners of his client. Kevin battled internally for a week to resolve the issue quickly and kept hitting roadblocks.
The perfect storm hit when the Principals from the third party companies were in a meeting with Kevin’s client and the client’s boss and complained about the experience they were having. The client was embarrassed in front of his superior and became furious. He lashed out at Kevin, threatening to repeal promised business, hold invoices for payment and cut him out of future opportunities. At that point, Kevin reeled in panic; his compensation is dependent upon revenue from this client and timely payments – the situation was now affecting not just his relationship with the client, but also his wallet.
When we spoke, Kevin was working desperately to craft an argument to take to the client to change his position. His talking points included:
- Our late payment didn’t affect you personally, or even your company and you are planning on affecting my income – that isn’t fair.
- This is the first time we’ve had this problem.
- Don’t you remember that I bailed you out of a jam last month? I’d like to call in my “marker” for that on this situation.
Kevin had completely lost focus and was missing the most important issue – there had been a mistake and it had embarrassed his client. Here was my advice:
- SLOW DOWN – Resist the urge to react immediately to the client’s anger even if their initial reaction is emotional.
- CLAIM IT- Acknowledge the mistake, don’t try to justify it or shift blame.
- APOLOGIZE- First and foremost, sincerely apologize for the error and for how it has impacted your client and their organization.
- IDENITFY WHAT IS CHANGING – Be clear about what steps have been taken and will be taken to ensure that the mistake will not be repeated in the future.
- OFFER A CONCESSION – Be proactive in suggesting an equitable concession. In Kevin’s case I suggested that they offer to make a 50% advanced payment to the third-party vendors for the next project.
The way out of a situation where a mistake has been made is not diversion or redirection. The way to salvage the client relationship is to acknowledge the client’s feelings, accept accountability for the error and work to find a mutually satisfactory way to move forward. Most importantly, check your ego at the door. Resist the urge to make the situation about you even though you personally may be affected by the consequences of the mistake. Be the person who says, “I’m sorry” – period, rather than, “I’m sorry, but…”