How To Handle Monumental Screw Ups When They DO Happen

Monumental BreakageIn a previous post on FreelanceFolder, Jon Phillips discussed steps you can take to avoid major problems before they happen. But, what do you do when they do happen?

Because let’s face it… problems WILL happen.

How you handle those situations can either make or break your relationship with that client. A poorly handled problem can cause you to loose the client and possibly more through word of mouth.

However, handling those problems with the coolness and professionalism of an airline pilot can actually improve your relationship with the client.

Below is a process I’ve come up with to help with those situations. While it won’t help in all situations, it’s been tried, tested, and works very well in most.

Stay Calm and Listen

The initial contact or conversation will set the tone for the rest of the scenario. So it’s important to stay cool, calm, and collected. Even if they’re upset, it’s up to you to keep the situation professional and civil.

The absolute worst thing you could do is be combative, defensive, or angry. This will only lead to an argument and in the end, even if you win the argument, you’ll loose the client.

You job during this initial contact is to listen, ask questions, and gather as many facts as you can.

Identify the problem

This may seem obvious… after all that’s why the client is calling you. However you’d be surprised about how many times you get off the phone and you still don’t know exactly what the problem is. So, it’s important that you identify with the client exactly what the problem or situation is.

Many times it helps to have the problem written down in an email. This not only provides you with a written record of what the issue, it also helps the client to actually think about the problem. Sometimes this extra step leads to the client answering their own question, so it’s always good to have them take that extra step.

Identify the best outcome

Unless it’s a major malfunction like a site outage or something obvious, make sure you clearly identify what the clients desired outcome will be.

Many times issues happen when there’s a mis-communication between you and the client, so it’s important to compare notes.

If the problem is because of initial content delivered to you was wrong, then that needs to be identified as well.

Fix the problem

Leaving a problem for later can be about the worst thing you can do. It’s important enough for them to call you, so do it… and do it NOW.

Immediate attention to a problem will instill trust and confidence. Ho-hum attitudes towards an issue will get you fired quicker than you can say “I was busy”.

Identify what went wrong

After the problem has been identified and fixed, it’s now time to take a look at what went wrong.

One of the key items to remember here is not to point fingers. Be analytical in what went wrong and if it’s something you did… own up to it.

If you admit your mistakes, you will get a gain much more respect by owning your mistakes instead of making excuses or pointing your finger at something else.

Prevent it from happening again

The final step to take is to put processes in place to help prevent these mistakes from happening again. Many situations and mistakes can be solved with the proper work flow processes in place.

One of the easiest ways to prevent many problems is to use a project management tool like Basecamp or Dot Project for communications, material delivery, and discussions pertaining to a project.

This not only keeps everything in a single location, it also helps keep everyone honest if problems arise.

How do you handle problems?

Like I said in the beginning, this is a tried and true method for business conflict resolution. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. So, how do you solve problems when they happen to you?

Image by Normann Copenhagen