Hello. We all make mistakes. Hopefully not too often, but mistakes do happen. How do we decide what to tell your clients when you have made a mistake? That’s what I wanted to explore today. I had a really high value conversation with a client just this morning, and I want to share with you lessons that he and I learned from that conversation.
Tell the affected clients everything. Tell them the value that you hold as a business, and what that means to them as a client. That you did make a mistake, what you’re going to do to fix it, and then offer to resign. But tell the unaffected clients nothing. Let me explain why.
As we saw it, he had three options: fix the problem quietly, tell the affected clients, or tell all clients. Let me work you through our rationale. We could fix it quietly. Why would we do that? Because that’s frankly what they’re paying us to do, and we don’t raise concerns that they don’t already have. That’s the benefit. Unfortunately, they might get wind of the fact that they have a problem before we’ve fixed it and find us wanting. Also, it’s kind of sneaky.
We could also tell our affected clients only, all of the affected clients. Benefit, it gets us on the front foot. Now, a reminder that getting on the front foot is a cricketing expression. Reasonably popular use, but just in case you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s all about being on the attack, being proactive. Longer story about how the expression came about. Getting on the front foot, being proactive, if you like, recommunicating your values, and it removes flight risk. But, it potentially increases flight risk by raising concerns that they didn’t know that they should have had.
We could tell all of our clients. Again, it lets us recommunicate our values, and it wards off any gossip. If the clients know or if the market generally knows what we did and why we did it, it potentially wards off gossip. But the cons are it actually increases flight risk at scale, raising concerns amongst their customers that they didn’t know that they had, and frankly, they probably didn’t need to have.
What is the right position to take? Let me tell you first one point that we hinged our answer around, and that is something that our client, mentioned that he would do for his clients as a consequence of having made the mistake. Firstly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, he committed to fix it, but he made that commitment to fix it at his expense. They doubled down and set about fixing the problem for their clients, just so that it was addressed. Then he made another point, and that is, if any client remained affected by the problem after they’d done their level best to fix it, he would personally underwrite that cost. That’s an unusual, unexpected, and unpromised piece of value. That is, there’s nothing in his contract or his marketing collateral, or his daily dialogue with his customers that says that that’s what he would do. That’s just what he thought was the right thing to do.
That’s a really high piece of value, and obviously evidences his ethics. Here’s what we thought about that problem or that approach. Imagine what would happen if he went out to fix the problem, didn’t quite get the problem fixed yet but was busy fixing it, and was willing to underwrite it, and then one of the affected clients came to him unsatisfied with the current, with whatever was going on. Somehow, they got wind of what was going on, and then left. All of the cost in terms of fixing the problem, but none of the benefit of keeping the client. Even though my client was perfectly willing to underwrite the costs 100% of the client, by not telling the client, I run the risk of starting out to fix the problem, losing the client anyway, and then having that horrible, uncomfortable conversation. But I would have done more, to which their client, my client’s client, would probably say, “Sure.”
Just not the right approach. This really powerful set of ethics and they’re communicated, was not the right answer, but we don’t need to tell everybody. Let me walk you through what we concluded.
We agreed to tell the affected clients everything, but in this order: the values that we hold as a business, what that means to them as a client, that we made a mistake on this occasion, what we’re doing to fix it, including underwriting any effect, and then offer to resign. Humility’s a powerful thing. You mean it genuinely, but very rarely would you expect to be taken up on it, because frankly, the client has no cost of retaining with you and you have evidence to your business ethics, offering to resign.
Tell the unaffected clients nothing. Of course, we could tell everybody everything, but frankly, we’re creating problems that just don’t exist. They’re problems that don’t affect that particular client or those other clients, and we’re creating problems or trying to solve problems that don’t exist, and creating concerns that they’d be worried about.
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Lots more planned for next week. Until then, may your funnel be full and always flowing.
Our thanks this week to my unnamed client for sharing his story and allowing me to share his story with you. Jason Thea for his amazing production. I’m Hugh McFarlane and it was an absolute pleasure this week to script and present this week’s show. I look forward to talking with you soon.