It's Your Fault: 5 Steps to Repair A Client Relationship

Mistakes happen. What will separate you and your business from the competition is how you manage them.

learn more about Michael Luchies

By Michael Luchies


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In mid-January, I received a surprising early morning email from a content client.

The email read, "Hi there. How should we handle this?" I immediately started to wake up from my sleepy fog and was a mix of interested and scared to see what came next.

The message was followed by an email conversation between my client and a well-known stock-image company. The company claimed that an image used in a blog post was protected by copyright and damages needed to be paid to compensate the photographer for their loss of revenue.

My client tried to apologize to the company, and the apology was followed by a response informing them that the only apology fit for this situation was cash. The stock-image company requested a settlement amount of several hundred dollars to "repair the damage."

My heart sunk. Not only was this a tough situation for my client, but it was also completely my fault. Now a client of mine was faced with a settlement request that felt more like a concrete demand. It became apparent to me that how I decided to handle this situation would dictate our future relationship and could have a drastic impact on my business.

There are few business owners, whether serving businesses or consumers, that will avoid ever making a mistake. What sets us apart is how we handle them.

Here are the steps I took, along with recommendations for other entrepreneurs caught in a mess they need to clean up.

Related: 5 Easy Ways to Improve Client Retention

1. Research the mistake

Before making any decisions or responding, you have to invest time into discovering the cause of the problem and how deep the mistake went. If you don't understand how it happened and the extent of the damage done, it will be difficult to know the proper steps needed to repair damage and learn how not to repeat the mistake again.

After an hour of research, it was obvious to me that my use of the image would not be categorized as "fair use" due to having a promotional call to action in the blog post. The company had a legitimate claim.

2. Own the mistake and apologize

Agreeing to create content and manage a blog for a client comes with responsibility. The images and written content are my responsibility. If there is blame that comes from something that was in my control, then that falls on me.

To some, apologizing is admitting a mistake was made. Well, sometimes you have to just admit it and then work to repair it. An apology was more valuable than keeping my pride and losing this relationship.

Related: Customer Retention Begins on the Front Lines

3. If necessary, pay to fix the mistake

My goal is to make clients money with content, not carelessly rack up fees for negligent mistakes. So after my research, owning the mistake and apologizing, I had to break out the checkbook. Due to our ongoing monthly work, I requested that the amount be taken out of what the client would owe for the following month.

Note: If working with clients, you must consider situations like this when pricing your services. You need to be able to make it right without having to forgo rent for the month.

4. Repair damage with client or customer

A fundamental of almost any business vertical is how much more it costs to acquire new customers than to keep old ones. In the end, some relationships will be impossible to repair after damage has been done. But if your business depends on strong, trusting relationships, which mine certainly does, you have to repair mistakes to the best of your abilities, and this goes beyond just making your client financially whole.

5. Deliver beyond initial agreement

Making up for a mistake doesn't always make up for a mistake. Despite the extra time, effort and money required on your part to "repair damage," your client still went through a situation they didn't bargain for.

Do something to go above and beyond your normal working agreement. Consider offering them a significant discount or a little extra work free of charge. This will show your dedication and that their business means more to you than just a check every month.

Mistakes happen. What will separate you and your business from the competition is how you manage them. Making a strong effort to own and repair any harm done, even going above and beyond the call of duty, will help to re-establish trust and confidence in your business.

Related: 3 Ways Owning Your Mistakes Will Make You Powerful

Do your research. Don't be afraid to apologize. And pay up when you are at fault to insure a long healthy business relationship.

Michael Luchies

Founder of TrepRep

Michael Luchies is the founder of content strategy and creation company TrepRep, a business that works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to expand their personal and business brands through storytelling. Michael is an author, TEDx alum, public speaker and enjoys helping other entrepreneurs grow their business. 

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