Turning Contract Mistakes into Manna

Posted on January 8, 2015 in Business Transactions

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This past weekend, my husband and I were putting up the last of the wall hutches for a new home office in our apartment and needed to drill holes in the wall in order to mount them. We sought advice from an expert at the hardware store and followed the advice to the letter. What we didn’t know–an unexpected misfortune–was the thinness of the walls. …in short, we ended up drilling two slightly-smaller-than-quarter-size holes through to our neighbor’s apartment. Yikes! I was mortified! We immediately stopped what we were doing, sought out the superintendent/handyman, explained the situation, and got his help to finish the job. Meanwhile, our neighbor came home to notice the unsightly holes in her wall and rang the bell to tell us about it. She was “loaded for bear,” ready to fume, until we told her of the immediate steps we had taken to rectify the situation and offered our apologies.

I relate this not to let you know about the sad state of my home-improvement skills (actually, the home office is spectacular, and the rest of the wall hutches went up without a hitch) , but to offer a couple of things I learned from this situation that also apply to working with your clients and customers:

  1. Deal with the situation immediately. It won’t go away, no more than those quarter-size holes were going to magically disappear from my neighbor’s side of the wall. She was greatly relieved when she heard that we had begun to address the problem even before she brought it to our attention. Ignoring the problem–maybe you missed a deadline, maybe the project wasn’t completed to the client’s satisfaction or maybe you misunderstood what was needed–only makes it worse, because you compound the mistake with a time delay.
  2. Take responsiblity. Admitting fault can be a tricky area (legally), but you’ll engender a lot more good will if you make right on what you did wrong–especially if you know you’re in the wrong. Most people (and businesses are run by people) are forgiving and will give you a second chance to get it right (provided you don’t take too long). Listen carefully to where you went off course. This has two benefits: 1. You learn exactly what to do right the next time, and 2. Your client feels that she was treated with the respect and concern she deserves. When you fight your client about the fact that you made a mistake, you lose the opportunity to repair the relationship and to learn from the experience.

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