Nobody wants to have to tell a client that they screwed up. What’s worse though is when you have to make an apology… and then can’t think of any way to follow up. You have no fix, no answers, nothing to show your client that their business means a great deal to you and that your firm can be trusted to come up big when times get tough.
This in essence is the key – do not say sorry without having a fix. The fix is part of the apology, and the two must always go hand-in-hand if you want to turn a mistake into a money-making opportunity (or at the very least keep your client from taking their business elsewhere).
Degrees of apology
The first degree of apologising is just that – a verbal apology and nothing more. So at least you admit a mistake was made, but this doesn’t really do your client any good. They’re still going to be late with their return, or miss out on a deduction, etc. What they walk away with is antagonism toward your firm which will get spread to their friends, family, and colleagues.
Needless to say, this first form of apology is not good enough. So let’s move to the second degree which is the apology that includes a basic fix. This gets clients back to an even keel, more or less equal to where they were before the mistake was made.
So you’ve plugged the holes in the sinking ship. That’s fine but you’ve still caused your client stress and you’ve made them waste their time as they brought the error to your attention and waited for you to fix it. So really, even though they might come out even on paper they’re still going to be going off with some of that antagonism that will lead to bad word-of-mouth.
Let’s bump things up a notch and bring systems into the mix. If you’ve managed to get a hold of our past emails you’ll know we’re a big proponent of utilising systems in your firms. This is the documentation of every step that is taken for any distinct and repeated job you do at your firm.
Systems can also be taken advantage of to deal with mistakes. First, setting and tweaking systems means you’re going to have far fewer mistakes as better workflows are discovered and integrated into your systems.
But when mistakes do arise you’ll have a method in place that is brought into action as soon as you encounter the error. This is done to make sure your client-facing staff has a clear set of guidelines for what they should do when such an error occurs, especially in regards as to how they talk to the client about it.
This means that they’ll save the client a lot of time instead of your staff making them wait as they consult with you about what’s to be done.
Turning mistakes into money
The only problem with systems is that while the client most definitely benefits from them, they don’t see them. They don’t feel the relief from mistakes being handled in a professional manner, at least not to the extent where they’re going to feel like they have the rock-stars of the accounting world working for them.
So what do we do to put stars in their eyes?
Two things. First, you thank them for bringing the error to your attention (do this personally if you can – a nod from the big boss means a lot). Why? Because you care about your clients, and by this client highlighting the error in your systems they’ve just ensured that all of your other clients are from that day forward going to receive a better service from you. Who doesn’t like feeling like they’ve done a good deed?
Second, you make the mistake benefit them. You don’t just put them back to where they should have been if the error had not been made, instead you make sure they come out ahead.
How? That depends on you. What can you offer them that will make their day? A free once-over of their personal accounting needs? A free one-time service that they wouldn’t normally buy, but would be of a benefit to them?
It’s up to you. Here’s what this extra effort on your part does:
You’re showing that you acknowledge the mistake and you’re penalising yourself for it.
You’re giving the client an emotional investment (a.k.a. branding) in your firm – they’re responsible for a particular fix that will benefit all of your clients from here on out.
You’re giving them a sample of a service that they never would have bought, but after sampling it, they may find that they desire to keep paying for the service in the future.
All of which are very good reasons for your clients to spread the good word about your firm via social media and in person to their friends, family, and other business owners. You’re now making money from your mistake.