What to do when you’ve behaved badly

Well, it happens. You screwed up. Poked the pooch. Botched, bungled, flubbed, muddled, bollixed, mishandled, muffed, floundered, butchered, or mishandled something you were supposed to do for a customer.

Now what?

Here are four things to do to try to recover from the situation, and save the relationship with the client.

1. Take responsibility. We are remarkably forgiving of people who take responsibility for what they do, assuming a person takes full and total accountability for their mistake. Of course, if you try to put ANY of the blame back on the customer this will backfire, and it should. You did this, so accept it, take ownership, and move on.

2. Apologize. The second step to try to get back in the good graces of your customer after screwing up and taking responsibility is to apologize. Again, no mixed message here —– take full responsibility for what you did or forgot to do, and apologize fully and completely.

3. State what you have learned and why the situation will never happen again. This one is interesting. If the situation could happen again, it’s best to say so. Again, the issue is that we generally feel “business” is trying to take advantage of us, so we are surprised and accepting of honest responses. So, if it’s possible that a mistake can happen again, warning the customer AND telling them everything you are going to do to keep that from happening is the right path.

4. Ask them to forgive you, and give them a reason to. It seems like some of us forget this last, critical step of recovery from a mistake. I guess we all just believe if we do the first three things, everything will be restored to what it was and all will be well. That’s not really the case, and taking this last step is critical

Look, none of us likes to make mistakes. It’s often an ego hit when we have to admit and take responsibility for our screw-ups, and we don’t really like to do that.

But we are all human. Trying to ignore, or worse yet, hide our mistakes is easily deciphered by our customers, and not owning up is a sure way to lose them permanently. Don't fall into that trap.

Mike McKay is a partner and licensed business and executive coach for ActionCOACH of Madison.

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