(Editor's Note: Today, we conclude our four-part problem client series with a hard look in the mirror - yes, sometimes as the business owner, the problem is with us, not the client! Next month, we'll be exploring other "problem vendor" behaviors, so be sure to check that out!)
Mistakes happen. We're all fallible people running businesses on our own. We're not huge corporations (although, they too screw up all the time), with large rosters of employees whose job is to focus on a specialized task. My own tasks on a daily basis can range from answering emails and creating proposals to attending networking events and photographing portrait sessions. Chances are I'm going to mess up once in while and it's my job to make it right. So, what do you do when you've clearly let something slip and your client is not happy?
1. Take a deep breath. It's not the end of the world. Fortunately for us, we're not heart surgeons or NASA space engineers. No one's life is in the balance - we've just inconvenienced someone (or many someones) and they're not happy about it. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and calm down. Then move on to step number two.
2. Apologize. You need to do this genuinely and earnestly. Do not give excuses; do not blame someone else. You don't need a lengthy explanation. Keep it short and sweet. Just simply acknowledge that a mistake was made, and do it right away - don't let days or weeks go by while your client gets increasingly angry at your lack of contact.
3. Listen. Sometimes you just need to take a verbal beating. You might find out some useful information to fix the situation or you might create a bond with your client simply because you bothered to care about their situation. Don't interrupt and don't argue. They've earned the right to tell you how they feel, and just being empathetic can go a long way toward resolving the issue.
4. Don't make promises you can't keep. In your haste to defuse the confrontation, don't feel pressured to just say anything to make it go away. If you can't think of a way to fix it immediately, let the client know you'll think it over and get back to them. Maybe they have a suggestion of what they would like you to do. If not, take some time to come up with a solution that works for all parties.
5. Let it go. Sometimes you can't fix things. Sometimes the client won't let you. Sometimes it's best to walk away and not make the situation worse. Perhaps you can recommend a colleague that could help them out. Regardless, once you've given your best effort to apologize and make it right, try to put it out of your mind. You might still have to work with the client or you may be onto the next project. Either way, remember you handled it the best you could and then it's time to get back to running your business.
Once the urgency of the situation has passed, it's important to take the time to reflect on how you could have handled it better or avoided the situation altogether. There's always a lesson to be learned and room to grow as an individual and a business. Repeat the process as needed (and we hope it won't be needed!).