How to Rebuild a Bridge – Restoring Client Trust After a Screw Up

How to Rebuild a Bridge – Restoring Client Trust After a Screw Up

One would think that years of continual building between two parties would mean that trust, a key factor in just about every conceivable relationship, would be a rock-solid thing. But that’s not really the case. Trust is more like a tower of un-mortared bricks. Left untroubled, they could conceivably stand forever. If struck hard enough, the whole thing could easily topple down.

In business, one mistake can break years of trust formed between you and a client. In some cases, it could affect your company’s relationship with an entire industry’s worth of clients.

Without going into detail about the millions of ways one could produce a major screw up, let’s examine ways to rebuild the bridge. After client trust is broken, what are some strategies we should use to rectify the situation?

Level with Them, and Apologize

When you or one of your employees makes an error that irritates a customer, don’t try to minimize the issue. Don’t make excuses or try to hope they don’t notice the mistake. Be direct and tell the truth about what happened.

The truth can be hard, but it’s efficient. Fabricating and maintaining a story requires a larger amount of cognitive effort than simply being real with your client. Also, long term, they’re more likely to respect your honesty and integrity if you’re straight with them.

So, your first step should always be to own your screw up and apologize. Research shows that a genuine apology can actually strengthen client relationships and improve satisfaction, even during a challenging situation (Gallup, TARP).

Listen and Understand

It might sound like an uncomfortable conversation, but if your company takes the time to listen to how your mistake has impacted your customer there’s a lot of valuable information to be gained. Also, your own empathy for their plight can contribute volumes to your rapport.

In listening to a client’s needs and how your mistake has failed to meet them, you’ll be given valuable insight into ways you can find a solution to the current problem and meet their needs in the future. In that regard, you’ll not only be working to preserve their business, but possibly building upon it at a later time.

Involve the Client in the Solution

A great way to curb some of the client’s frustration after a mistake has been made is to actively involve them in the process of finding a solution. Experts agree that, frequently, the upset client’s own recommendations can be more advantageous for your company than the options you might have offered in the first place. You may even discover options together your company had previously never considered.

Once again, this really harkens back to understanding the needs of the client and can be a great way to show them that your company cares. They’ll be left feeling like their concerns were validated and that your company appreciates their business.

Make it Right

Obviously, once you and the client determine what course of action your company is going to take to address the problem, you should follow through with that as promptly as possible. That shouldn’t be your last step though, because you have a great opportunity to personalize your resolution with something a little extra to let the client know you care. Going above and beyond expectations builds loyalty, even in difficult times when you’re trying to make things right. It’s a great way to reflect your company’s commitment to quality.

Learn from Your Mistake

Now that the challenge of making things right has passed, it would be a great time to review your protocols and train your staff about ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also, if you’ve documented your interactions with the client throughout this process, that record could also serve as a valuable training tool for posterity.

No mistake exists in a vacuum, and even random flukes can happen a second time if not properly prevented. Use this opportunity to review and improve rather than move on and forget. In the end, even though your relationship with the client was damaged in the short term, managing the mistake in the appropriate ways can actually lead to a much stronger relationship with them over the long haul. All it takes is a little bit of courage, empathy, and patience.



Some Stats on Service and Trust:

After one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again.


Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they’ll tell about a good experience.

Source: American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer

33% of Americans say they’ll consider switching companies after just a single instance of poor service.

Source: American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer


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