How To Communicate With A Client After You’ve Dropped The Ball

You have earned the client’s business. You’re working on their project. And then the bottom falls out: your computer crashes or your files get hacked, your key players leave the company or you just slipped up on the communication and now your client feels ignored and neglected.

businessman hiding

What do you? Cut your loses, but fix the problem so that it doesn’t happen with the next client? Well, don’t write the unhappy client off too quickly. There’s a chance that you can salvage the situation.  Besides, the greatest measure of our character and tenacity is how we deal when things go wrong.

When Things Go Wrong

Our fight or flight instincts kick in. You get ready to escape, sometimes, by any means necessary. Have you seen these escape tactics before?

  • Placing blame so that you can save face.
  • Giving superficial solutions to buy you some extra time.
  • Ignoring it, because it will just go away (hmmm…does that work?…no).

You’re the point and because of that, you don’t get to hide. You don’t get to wait for somebody else to figure it out — you fix it. But remember, you don’t have to do everything, but you do have to set the strategy, and most importantly, set the standard. And that begins with communication.

It’s Time For A Series Of Difficult Conversations

To be effective as you communicate with your disgruntled client, pay attention to 4 core steps:

1.) Accept the Mistake

Investigate the situation — immediately. Get clear about everything that happened, and then get organized. You want to know:

  • what was promised by your company
  • what was expected by your client and
  • what they actually received

Don’t just guess at it; talk to every team member involved — as quickly as possible. Besides, you can only make the best decision once you understand the situation.  If you’re a one man or one woman show, then you don’t have to go far to get the details.

But before you react, put yourself in your client’s shoes. You know what it feels like to be on the other side of the counter. But when you’re the one providing the service or the product, make sure you understand and respect their concerns. This simple decision will temper your communication; it will help you to respond with their interest in mind — and not just to save face.

2.) Automate the Communication 

Keep the conversation flowing. This is not the time to hide. In fact, the decision to communicate consistently is the difference between creating a loyal customer or an angry, vocal, ex-shopper.  When you discover the mistake, be proactive:

  • Call to apologize with a remedy to alleviate the situation.
  • Let your client know how long it will take.
  • Give honest time frames and then keep your word. If you promise to follow up next week, follow up next week.
  • Update them consistently until the problem is resolved and be automatic about it — even though it may be painful to you.

After a service provider drops the ball with their client, the number one complaint I hear is that “they won’t return my call.” Your client wants to hear from you. They want a realistic time frame for when the issue will be resolved. They want a concession for the mistake. They want to be heard. And yes, they may want their money back.

The sooner you address the issue by solving the problem or giving a concession that they can live with, the sooner you can move on.  We understand that businesses are run by people and sometimes people make mistakes. When your company make the mistake, don’t hide — communicate.  Do you automatically dump every company that makes a mistake? If you don’t, why not?

For most, the answer lies in how the company deals with them after the fact.

3.) Advise The Team On How To Handle Their Phone Calls

Your team needs to know how to handle that client’s phone call.  Everybody can’t and shouldn’t know everything, but you can tell the receptionist to always forward Mr.X’s phone call to the following people.

Remember, you don’t want to leave that client hanging any more. So don’t force them to re-explain their story over and over again. You inform your team on the situation and how to move. By having an informed team you can keep from adding insult to injury.

4.) Attack the Situation, Not The Person 

It’s natural to want to protect yourself, but since you made the mistake, then you cannot honor your flight response by running away. Stand and deal directly.  You also have to address the fight response; instead of attacking the client — passive aggressively — attack the situation.

Take this position:

“I will get to the bottom of this and see what we can do to fix it as quickly as possible.”

Then do the work to keep your word. Even if you still loose the client’s business, you have found a leak and fixed it so that you don’t loose others.  With the right kind of communication you can salvage most business relationships. But it takes consistency and sincere concern to turn it around.

Businessman Hiding Photo via Shutterstock


Jamillah Warner Jamillah Warner (Ms.J), a poet with a passion for business, is a Georgia-based writer and speaker and the Marketing Coordinator at Nobuko Solutions. She also provides marketing and communication quick tips in her getCLEAR! MicroNewsletter.

12 Reactions
  1. Whenever I stuff up a problem, I usually do all of the above, plus add some extra service as a thank you to them for being understanding. Being upfront and honest is always the best practice.
    Excuses are only bought by the person giving them.

  2. Accepting the fact that you made a mistake can be the hardest part, but in some ways you can turn your mistakes into advantages. Show your client that, even though you screwed up, you’re more than willing to fix the mistake and go the extra mile to keep the business.

    • Agreed,

      Not looking to make a bunch of mistakes, but if you can deal with the tough cases with diligence and humility, you can stand out in ways you never expected. Some of my favorite companies messed up big time, but communicated like all-stars and I am still a loyal client. It doesn’t always work out favorably, but there is power in stepping up — no matter what.

  3. ‘Accepting the fact that you made a mistake can be the hardest part, but in some ways you can turn your mistakes into advantages.’

    I couldn’t have put it better myself. I have had some of the best customer service from initial mistakes.

    Great post, thanks.

  4. Yes. Thanks for writing. I recently started a company and am looking to get all the advice I can get. Although messing something up with a client is something I never plan to do, it will inevitably happen. Thank you for making me be better equipped. If anyone on here feels inclined to give me any advice, I would reall appreciate anything – visit my site and send me an email.


  5. Fabulous! People respect honesty so don’t avoid the situation. You can recapture the client if you meet the situation head on. Thanks for this article.

  6. We treat our customers with honesty and respect regardless if we have screwed up or not.

  7. The horror! It’s all too easy dealing with irrational customers when you know that you’ve done nothing wrong, but in these cases where the error has been done and the customer is upset, damage control can be quite stressful. A big salute to those who have never tried to hide from their customers when they dropped the ball! Hiding is an understandable instinct, though, when you are faced with one of these customers.

    • Gwen, you’re so honest.

      Being on both sides of the equation. I typically fall in love with a company that steps up to the table. But on the occasion that I have been the offending party, it used to feel like I’m a kid in trouble again with 2 younger sisters looking to see what I’ll do. I didn’t realize at the time that choosing to say, “I did it – that’s my fault” made me stronger. And it taught my sisters how to act in the same situation. Now, it just feels like good business.

      As a customer, I want to be taken care of! As a company I have to dish that same kind of care and love.

      I’m with you “A big salute to those who have never tried to hide from their customers when they dropped the ball!”

  8. Great article! So glad folks want to step up and I know that can be the hard part of the conversation.

    First step to having a productive conversation- prepare! Don’t wing it. Deal with your own emotions. Don’t let guilt or embarrassment lead you into giving away extra work or discounts. We ALL make mistakes and the price for that is being accountable, not handing out cash.

    Remember to have compassion for yourself in addition to your clients. You’re a good person doing your best, right? Poop happens.

  9. Thanks for sharing the tips.