“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  That proverb may be true in a personal relationship, but if we love our customers and we want them to return our affection with loyalty and devotion, we better learn to apologize whenever we make a mistake that hurts them.

The only person who never does anything wrong is the person who never does anything. Since we are doers, we will make mistakes.

Sometimes our mistakes only hurt us.  Perhaps we were overly ambitious with our pricing structure and lost money on a project, or we miscalculated the popularity of a new color and we have excess inventory.  Those type of mistakes are injuries we have inflicted upon ourselves and don’t directly hurt our client.

Other times our mistakes hurt our customers.  When your company makes a mistake that hurts your client it is important to take the following steps:

  1. Say you are sorry;
  2. Show you are sorry, and;
  3. Learn from your mistake.

Say You Are Sorry…

The customer who did not receive the quality of product or service they paid for have been shortchanged by your company.  They trusted you.  You made an agreement to provide them with something they needed.  They agreed to pay you for it.  You failed to do so.  Now is the time to tell them you are sorry.  Do not delay… When sorry needs to be said, it is best to say it early — and as often as necessary.

It is also the time to tell them you will make things right…

Show You Are Sorry…

Saying sorry helps, but showing sorrow by making up for a mistake means more to your client and earns not only loyalty, but respect…  Trust me. I know.

From a personal perspective, I can tell you what my dad told me when I made a mistake and didn’t know what I should do.  Dad would say, “Mark, you are never wrong when you do the right thing and you are always wrong when you do the wrong thing… even if nobody’s looking.”

Being in business for almost 35 years and personally responsible for performing over 25,000 home improvement projects, I can say I have made mistakes that have hurt my clients.  Not only have I made mistakes, my mechanics have made mistakes, my suppliers have made mistakes, product hasn’t performed as advertised and weather has caused schedule delays.  Each time the performance of my business caused my client pain, my client heard from me, personally…

But I didn’t just say I was sorry, I made up for my errors the best I could, and to the point where they were satisfied with the outcome.  Whether it meant providing them with service, a new installation, added value, a price reduction or just telling them I was sorry, they received what they agreed was adequate compensation.

Notice I said what THEY believed was adequate compensation, not what I felt was adequate.  When a mistake is made, it is important to remember who the injured party is and how you would feel standing in their shoes.  When you do that, it is easier to do the right thing.

Jake Stolzfus reminded me recently that, after all is said and done, “The client defines satisfaction, not the business.”

Learn From Mistakes…

Over time, I found it is more important to maintain the love of your client by saying and showing you are sorry than it is to make money on any individual job…

However,  a business cannot survive if it makes mistakes that lose money and customers every day, so it is equally important to learn not to make the same mistake over and over again.

In almost every instance, learning from mistakes so they don’t continue to occur is a simple three step process:

  1. Identify;
  2. Analyze, and;
  3. Correct.

A consistent problem can be eliminated by identifying it, analyzing it and correcting as needed. We must remain aware of the actions of our business and its representatives by maintaining good communication with our clients. When a mistake is made more than once we can identify it, if we remain vigilant about our performance.

Once we’ve identified the problem causing the mistake, it is time to analyze the problem and find the proper solution, because a change is needed.

In conclusion, the plan of every successful business is to do something — every day -– to earn profits.  Even when you and your company implement a plan to avoid errors, mistakes will happen.  We can learn from mistakes and improve our strategy to avoid mistakes, but that doesn’t help the customer on the short side of the mistake.

The businessperson who won’t apologize to their client when they make a mistake is sure to be vilified and hated.  When mistakes happen, be prepared to apologize in a meaningful way and you will be rewarded with love from your clients shown as customer loyalty.

If you kept reading until now, you are in for the biggest surprise of all…

Showing you are sorry when you make a mistake is the best form of advertising!

Sure, doing the right thing allows you to hold your head high and shop in your local grocery store without fear of retribution from a customer dissatisfied, but guess what else?

Even though it might hurt your pocket, the day you decide to do the right thing, doing the right thing pays huge benefits in the long run.

The entire neighborhood soon finds out about your mistake – AND the fact you corrected it. I have received more referrals and repeat business from clients where I have corrected a mistake than from clients where everything went smoothly…

When a mistake is corrected, it is proof to potential customers you have honor and can be trusted. The trustworthy business earns new customers and the loyalty of existing customers…

And customer loyalty comes with the reward of repeat business, referrals… and love.


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