So since we tackled who comes first, the employee or the client, last week, I thought it’d be a good time to extend that discussion this week into, what do you do if a client is upset about an employee’s mistake? Now as we discussed, when it comes to health and safety, no matter what, an employee should be protected and prioritized over a client’s request. And that overall, the employee does need to take precedence in terms of appreciation and recognition as well.
They’re the ones who you want and need to go above and beyond in their work each and every day; plus clients will come and go within a few months, but employees hopefully will stay for many years. So, how do you properly handle a situation where one of your employees makes a mistake, and your client is both upset about the situation and upset with your employee? Well, let’s find out.
It’s Beautiful, and Now I’m Furious
Ok, so let’s say your client’s kitchen is being renovated and during the design presentation your client, Pam, is presented with two options for the backsplash, a white subway tile and a gray subway tile. Pam talks back and forth with Kelly her designer about the two options as she can’t quite decide. She loves both and at first says, “ok, gray.” She thinks for a second, and then changes her mind and finally says, “Actually never mind, the white, final answer.” The rest of the presentation is then carried out. At the end Kelly runs through all of Pam’s selections to make sure she got it down right; Pam agrees and hands over her deposit check.
Days go by and the orders are put through. Time goes by and the tile comes in. The tile layer shows up, and the backsplash is laid. Pam is off for a day away, but can’t wait to return and see that ugly old seashell tile backsplash gone and crisp, clean subway tile in its place! Pam walks through the door, hand still on knob, gasps with anticipation, and is, furious. It’s beautifully laid, the tile itself is impeccable, the grout is just as she wanted it, and the space has been cleaned up beautifully – not a speck of dust anywhere. So what’s the problem? It’s gray.
A Small Mistake, that Became a Huge Problem
How?! All of the choices were confirmed at the end! She said white for goodness’ sake! Where did it all go wrong?!….
Well, let’s take a minute to find out. So when Pam initially said “gray,” Kelly wrote that down. Then when she changed her mind a few seconds later, Kelly crossed that out and wrote down “white” instead. However, when she was putting the orders through, she didn’t check her notes in regards to the tile. She went by memory instead. She remembered that Pam had said “gray” but forgot that she later had said “white” and submitted the order for the gray subway tile.
Pam then calls you, principal designer & firm owner, and she’s furious. Their entire backsplash is up and it’s gray. They’re not paying for the mistake and they don’t want this to delay the project either. They were on schedule to be done by Christmas and all of their children and their families are coming home to stay. They don’t want to miss out on that opportunity because of this mistake. She demands that it be fixed immediately, and they don’t want the designer on the project anymore. They now want you.
Ok…. so clearly this not a great situation to be in. A mistake was made, a very costly mistake – both in terms of time and money, and now Pam is so upset with Kelly that she doesn’t even want her working on the project anymore. Yikes. Your mind starts to race and scramble, desperately trying to figure out the next steps. You need to come up with a good solution. So you greatly apologize to Pam, agree that this was an unacceptable mistake and needs to be fixed immediately, assure her that the cost to replace it will be covered by you (thank goodness you opened that “mistakes” account and put aside money from every project for times like these) and let her know that you’ll call her back in three hours with your plan. You hang up, and call Kelly in to your office.
She comes in and sits down. She sees your unhappy face and her smile quickly disappears. She doesn’t know what happened, but she knows it’s not good and can figure out that whatever it is, was her fault. You tell her the situation and she’s mortified, terrified, and a bit confused. You also let her know that unfortunately the client has asked that she no longer be on the project. You see her eyes well up. She tries to be professional and hide it, but, it was too late. You saw the tears.
Yikes….. that was awful. Now you have two upset people on your hands. A furious client, and a mortified employee whose wondering what her fate is at your firm. It was a small mistake that could have easily been prevented, but quickly turned into a huge one because protocol wasn’t followed. So what’s the next step? What happens to the employee, and what happens to the client?
Quick Action, Creativity, & Consistency Win Back Trust
Well, first you confer with Kelly. You tell her that although you’ll now need to be the lead designer on the project, she’ll still be working in the background. All of the office work will still be hers and her first job is to figure this out. You know she’s not exactly in a creative spot right now so you let her know that her job at the firm is secure; and that people do make mistakes (but you’ll discuss how to prevent them in the future after all of this is over), and you value her hard work and creativity a great deal.
You let her know that right now she needs to focus all of that creativity on the solution. Priority one is getting the right tile in the house as soon as possible and she needs to figure out how to make that happen. You let her know that she has two hours to figure out next steps (that’s right, two hours, not three – this is the first way you begin to win the client’s trust back, by overdelivering on time). She agrees and gets to work.
She comes back two hours later, with two possible solutions. A tile shop that’s 100 miles away has the exact tile you need, but they’ll need to order it and it won’t arrive for another couple of weeks. Another tile shop that’s 200 miles away also has the exact tile you need, and it’s in stock. However with shipping it’ll be at least another week before they can get it properly packaged to you and sent off. The tile layer that you usually use is available for the rest of the week (it’s Monday currently), but after that he’s booked solid for the next three weeks. Another tile layer that your usual tile layer referred you to, is available for the next two weeks. So, you look at her and ask, well, what do you think the best solution is here?
You then call the client at the 2 and a half hour mark and say, “Hi Pam, I wanted to let you know that we found the exact tile that was originally selected for your space and your backsplash will be completely replaced by the end of this week. That way there won’t be a delay in your project. Once we get the tile, we’ll immediately take a picture and send it to you to confirm that it’s the right choice. We’ll also bring it by your home once we receive it so it’ll be there for the tile layer. If you’ll be at home tomorrow evening, we’ll also open the box to confirm with you in person that the tile is correct. Will that work for you? (She says that yes, that will work and that she’ll be home around 5:30) “Wonderful! We’ll drop the box off around 5:45 then. Also is it ok if the tile layer comes by tomorrow morning around 8 to take out the backsplash that’s in and then return on Wednesday around 9 to put the correct backsplash in? If you won’t be home either day to let him in, I’m more than happy to drop by and do so myself.”
Pam is elated and says, “Oh thank you so much! I’m so sorry I was so upset before. I hope I wasn’t rude. I was just so excited about our space and was so disappointed when I saw what had happened. I also hope I didn’t offend Kelly by asking that she no longer work on the project. I was just really frustrated and worried about what had happened. If she’s ok with it, I’m ok with her continuing.”
Don’t Introduce Unnecessary Change in a Time of Frustration
Say what?! Now how did all of that happen? And how is the backsplash being replaced in two days when the in stock tile that’s 200 miles away was going to take a week to replace? Well, because Kelly is personally going to pick it up. She’s leaving tomorrow morning, picking it up, and driving right back the same day. You’ll then drop it off at Pam’s house and will show Pam in person that the tile is the correct color.
Now why? Why is she going to get it rather than waiting a week and using the tile layer that you were referred to? Well, because you want to fix this problem (this very big problem) as fast as humanly possible, as long as you’re able to maintain the same level of quality. And because you don’t want to bring any element of change into this complicated situation if at all possible.
Bring in a new tile layer, and you may get an entirely different level of quality, punctuality, communication, whatever. It may even be better than your usual tile layer. But now is not the time to find out. Now is the time for keeping as many variables as stable as possible from the previous situation. Any new variable added to the situation is likely to upset the client again, or at least make them uncomfortable.
Let’s Break It Down Next Week
Ok so, we’ve got a great solution, a client whose gone from furious to apologizing for their rudeness, and an employee whose a bit scarred but actively working to make the client happy. So how do you wrap this thing up and move on? And exactly what steps did we take to recover, taking that client from furious to apologizing, and our employee from terrified to creative? Well, we’re going to break it all down in next week’s post.
But for now let’s just remember this, clients can be made happy again, employees can bounce back from mistakes, and so can you. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world if they’re taken care of quickly and appropriately. And whether or not the mistake is yours, or an employee’s, they’re treated the same – with apology, responsibility, and creative action. The client may not always be right (like in the case of our thunderstorm Drive Up situation) but when it comes to fixing a mistake that your firm has made, they definitely are.
So meet me back here next week and we’ll go through the recovery plan step by step, making sure that clients are happy, employees learn from their mistakes, and you remain calm, cool, and collected (and profitable).
Let me know in the comments below, have you ever had to address a client about an employee’s mistake? If so, how did it go? I’d love to know!
And if you’re for looking for more ways to serve your clients exceptionally well, then take a look at what we’ve got for you here!