A while ago, I planned a webinar and lots of people signed up to be with me on the call. Although I had accessed my chosen platform as a student via Skype for over a year, in honor of my webinar Skype decided to charge for calls, so many of my clients couldn’t join. Then five minutes into the call, my Internet disconnected. And when I called in from my cellphone, it dropped the call. Three times.
Sounds like a comedy of errors? I promise it wasn’t funny, neither for me nor for the people who cleared the time from their busy schedule to join me on the call.
Even with the best intentions and an all-out effort, mistakes happen. Things get out of our control. Then again, sometimes we get out of control or fail to control the work properly. It doesn’t matter. That’s part of being human. As my friend Naomi says, if you make business mistakes, it means you are doing something. Better to do a lot and fail sometimes, than to try only when you are sure you can get a perfect result and accomplish less.
As unpleasant as it is to fail, it is what we do after the failure that counts. Judaism teaches that a person who repents can turn a sin into a source of merit.
As Yom Kippur approaches, we face it with dread. Rummaging our sordid past isn’t exactly fun. Yet repentance can become uplifting, not downgrading, if instead of concentrating on our feelings of guilt, we can engage in introspection.
Hebrew makes a distinction between ashma (guilt) and charata (regret). Guilt highlights our shortcomings. It makes us feel worthlessness. It is degrading and depressing. As we indulge in guilt feelings, we lose hope for ourselves and stop believing in our ability to do better.
We get down on ourselves:
I am such an idiot!
How could I have done such a thing???
I am lazy.
This is hopeless!
Remorse comes from a completely different place. It starts with the realization that I am an elevated person, created in G-d’s image, and brought into the world with a unique mandate.
It is precisely because G-d believes in my ability to do good that He entrusted me with a set of tools to bring more perfection into the world. I might have done some bad deeds, but that was not the true me. Those sins were not worthy of my actual potential. Or as they say in Yiddish: est past nisht.
True remorse doesn’t denigrate; it empowers.
Instead of demoralizing, it inspires to act in rise to the challenge.
With the new realization, we can strive higher, reach farther, and get to places seemed unattainable.
As in life, so in business, ironically, our ability to handle a botched situation can establish our credibility and trust in the eyes of clients and prospects better than success ever could.
I learned that at the very beginning of my career, when I started a job as a small town mayor’s office manager. On my first day on the job, the employee who came to brief me bent over and shared a secret. It turned out that the woman who had held the job before me was not fired because of the many mistakes she had made (as annoying as those had been to the boss). They got rid of her because she kept making excuses for her mistakes.
When we make a mistake, the natural instinct is to unplug the phone, disconnect from the email, and hide in a corner until the situation blows over. This is why people truly respect those who step forward and take responsibility.
How to Rectify a Business Mistake
- Don’t wait for them to figure it out – If you know something has gone wrong, don’t wait for the client to discover it. Step forward and inform them of the expected issue. If you know you will not be able to pay a supplier, don’t keep the knowledge to yourself until the pay by date rolls around. Call them and give them the heads up. Having been on the receiving end of such situations, I guarantee they would rather know earlier than later.
- Truly care – Put yourself into your client’s (or supplier’s or whatever) shoes and look at the situation from their vantage point. Try to understand the implications for them and the most crucial problems with the situation.
- Don’t make excuses – The most annoying type of apology is the one that comes with excuses. Resist the temptation to reduce your responsibility. People don’t appreciate it. Offer a simple explanation, but be aware that they don’t really care why they are being disappointed. They just want to get what they need.
- Acknowledge their hurt – They will be upset! Prepare for it and don’t get hurt back. If you can, let them know you are aware of how painful/inconvenient/disappointing this is to them before they do. Tell them you understand how they feel and apologize.
- Don’t blame them or argue with them – If your client is partially responsible, don’t play the blame game. Wait till they are less emotional and offer to hold a conversation, where you ask them about the possible causes of the problem. There is a good chance they will acknowledge their part. Either way, logically and dispassionately describe the circumstances in a way that doesn’t make them feel defensive. Then strategize together on how to solve the issue.
- Make it better – ideally try to think of ways to repair the problem before you tell them about it. Be confident and offer guarantees if you can. Show them not just what you will do but how you will do it to make it clear that you have thought things through. If you can offer them a bonus for their disappointment, by all means do it.
Remember my webinar story? Here is the actual letter I had sent to those forty clients.
“How often do you lose your Internet connection?
How often do you lose it 5 minutes into a webinar that was planned ahead of time, with people on the call, who cleared the time from their schedule to be there with you?
First of all, I’d like to apologize to everyone, who joined me on the call for the technical difficulties we had.
Secondly, I know a few of you had difficulty joining the call or needed to pay long distance rates to do so. I am getting a new system in place to make all future calls technically easier and free of phone charges.
Thirdly, if you need to learn how to get the clients for your business, you can still do so and do so for free. Starting this Sunday, a small group of business owners will learn how to get the clients they need in a step-by-step, paint-by-number system, as part of the DreamBiz coaching club.
You can sign up for free and enjoy the first month (4 weekly sessions + instant implement Homework + closed support group) without paying a dime. At the end of the month, you can decide if to continue with the paid program or not. And you can cancel any time after that.
I promise to take care of the technical side so we don’t have any more glitches in the future.”
I ask the forgiveness of all my readers if I have hurt you in anyway. If I did something wrong, please let me know. I would appreciate the opportunity to make it right.