What's the worst mistake you've ever made at work? Here's how to say sorry.

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It happens…Or, feel free to replace “it” here with another similar sounding word, and there you have it. Despite our best intentions, it happens to the best of us.

It could be anything: maybe you crashed their website during the middle of a critical campaign, a website you subsequently developed and manage. Maybe it’s a t-shirt order that somehow got printed incorrectly right before a major event.

Whatever the mistake, regardless of how big or small, you need to own up to it in order to salvage your relationship with that client or colleague.

How exactly do you own up to it and move on from there? A little finesse, a large helping of honesty, and the gumption to stick it out and find that solution no matter what the costs.


Admit the Mistake and Explain What Happened.

Of course this is all to be prefaced with an “I’m sorry.” And not simply a throw away, little-kid-caught-red-handed-so-there’s-no-other-choice-I’m-sorry. A genuine apology that befits the mistake. You need to show that client that you fully understand the gravity of the situation and thus are ready and willing to take responsibility and fix it. Then, in the admitting, you go into the details. Always be transparent with your customer or colleague. Explain exactly what went wrong, how it went wrong, and why it will never ever happen again.


Go into Crisis Management Mode.

You need to demonstrate that upon realising your mistake, you will do whatever it takes to rectify it. The customer has to clearly see the level of your investment as far as getting the issue straightened out. They need to know that you empathise with their predicament and do not take it lightly. The speed, urgency and sincerity of your response and that of your employees will make or break that next deal for you, should there be a next one. For the client, this is a potential crisis — treat it as such.


Do Not Got on the Defensive.

Some of the more notable PR fiascos when it comes to big companies making mistakes, have been their very public pronouncements of righteousness, only to later have to tuck their tail between their legs and beg for forgiveness. Their problem: they tried to shift the blame back onto the customer, their own employees, innocent bystanders, anyone really who happened to be in the line of fire. Let’s just say their “going on the defensive” strategy woefully backfired. Think United Airlines, enough said. 


Pursue a Solution—And Fast!

Okay, the screw up’s been admitted. All is out in the open. Now’s the time to act, now’s the moment you show that client they can depend on you to correct the issue smoothly and quickly. Your best bet after making a mistake that costs the customer, is to involve the customer in the solution process. Time for a little hand holding. Walk them through step by step exactly what you’re doing, and what the rectification plan involves. The worst thing you could do here is to leave them in the dark. They’ve been burned once already, so they may not trust you 100%. You need to win back their trust and their business. Think of it as starting from scratch—because in many ways you are. Prove to that disgruntled client once again that your company is worth it.


For Future Reference…

Hopefully, if anything positive comes out of the experience it’s that you’ve learned something. You definitely want to try and demonstrate to your customer that you recognize where you went wrong and that you’ve taken the issue to heart and will diligently work to resolve any such problems that may creep up in the future.

What you may want to do next time as well—because let’s face it, no one’s perfect and we are certainly not problem-free—is to see the potential mistake before it gets out of control and notify the customer early on in the crisis, thus potentially stemming the tide of the screw up and walking away with only a few minor scrapes and bruises rather than a full-on 911.

Posted 30 May, 2017


Copywriter, Content Writer, Proofreader, Marketer.

Dunja is the Content & Email Manager at Freelancer HQ (Sydney). She is an Oxford graduate, and is the mother of a pet parrot called DJ Bobo.

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