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#705: Know How and When to Apologize to a Client

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Friday, November 25, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 25, 2011
Sometimes I make mistakes in selling or delivering services to my clients. When I apologize, I don't want to make it worse and have clients lose confidence in me. What's the best way to apologize for a mistake and keep your reputation intact?

First, be on the lookout for a comment, action or outcome that is a mistake in your clients' eyes. If you think something is appropriate that your client thinks is not, then you have your first problem. Be sure you understand your client's criteria for success and high performance, even if it means talking to him or her specifically about those criteria.

Second, if you do recognize a mistake, don't wait to acknowledge your responsibility, even if it is indirect (e.g., when you are part of a team accountable for a mistake). Talk to your client immediately about the intended outcome and your role and responsibility for the mistake.

Finally, make sure your owning up to the mistake has a positive outcome. Both you and your client should be better off as a result. Some people offer what seems like an apology but really take no ownership (e.g., "If you were hurt by what I did, then I am sorry"). Others apologize but make no attempt to avoid the situation in the future or make sure they make things right.

Tip: When you realize you have made a mistake, create a strategy to make sure it doesn't happen again, even if it was not entirely your fault. Go to your client and suggest how, together, you can make the organization stronger and better able to avoid such mistakes in the future. And make sure you include your own behaviors and practices in that strategy.

© 2011 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  apologize  client relations  communication  trust 

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Michael E. Cohen CMC MBA says...
Posted Sunday, November 27, 2011
This is a good topic, Mark. It should be tied in with "Correcting Mistakes." I've known consultnats who are so afraid of having a mistake reveealed to a client (e.g., in a data analysis), that they don't report it, hoping that it won't be noticed. The point is that anyone can make mistakes, and a consultnat should always correct errors, along wiht an appropriate apology. I have found it rare that a clinet would hold it against a consultnat for making an error and promptly acknowledging and correcting it.

Then there is the situation of interpersonal problems, where the consultant may have lost his cool and said something inappropriate. No matter what he provocation, there is a rihgt way and a wrong way to convey a dissenting view (as I've learned more than once- lol). Don't try and fugure out who was more at fault. If you as the consultant could have been more diplomatic, apologize and try to learn from it and avoid the same mistake in the future.
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