Here are the six battle-tested steps I shared with the founder whose business had been impacted.
1. Identify how far short you’ve fallen
A lack of perspective makes it easy to think we have fallen a lot further short than is actually the case. As a result, conversations that can unlock perspective with people at the customer organisation is the essential first step.
The effectiveness of these fact-finding conversations hinges on asking carefully crafted questions, for example:
I understand that we may have dropped the ball. I’m here to help take your [talent/process/product/technology] to the next level. How can we help you and your team with that?
From your perspective, what would you like to see from my company as the next step?
2. Apologise and acknowledge that you’ve fallen short
Once you understand how short your product or team has fallen, offer an authentic apology. Apple does this well, and personally.
3. Own it
There might not be a way to repair a customer relationship but I’ve found that to rarely be the case if founders act quickly to re-establish credibility.
This comes down to proposing a detailed strategy to rectify the issue. And by strategy I mean doing (re)work for free that is hyper-clear, specific, time-bound and measurable.
4. Get stuck in immediately
Issues aren’t like wine, they don’t age well with time. Move to understand the context (step 1) and exercise the plan (step 3) as quickly as possible. Delaying will only put the customer relationship further at risk.
This step is usually where people stop. Don’t stop here because you’ll be leaving value on the table.
5. Add adjacent value
Making amends for whatever the issue is will help but make sure you’re adding other value to the people impacted by whatever the shortfall was. This will help your true value and values shine through and help them be reminded of why your team or product are awesome.
This can involve sharing content, providing specific advice (for free) about topics that are important to them based on your domain expertise and inviting them to events as your guest, to name a few.
6. Get the issue out of your head
You don’t have to post it publicly but write about the issue, how and why it came to be and the steps you’re taking to sort it out.
The consequence of not doing this is that it will fester in your mind and you will be the only one who learns from it.
And IF you do decide to publicly post it somewhere, it will help others to avoid the same mistake. And it might just help your customer see how humbling the experience has been for you.