Wait for the Bullet or Fall on the Sword?

In a prior post I covered a real-life scenario resulting from the lack of project management and how it was remedied. As promised, I’ll now share how we “peeled the customer off the ceiling” which became necessary as a result of our causing significant impact to their business.

Preparation for a client meeting of this nature is absolutely critical. This includes identifying the goals and objectives, key topics and who will cover each. In this particular situation, it became necessary to document the chronology of events to demonstrate to the client that we completely understood what happened. After extracting this information from the personnel involved in the incident, we were ready. A few of us put on our suits and went to visit the client.

The opening moments of a meeting such as this are the most crucial. After introductions, my opening went something like this:

The reason we are here is because we caused significant impact to your business, probably more significant than we realize. I am here to tell you that I take 100% responsibility and commit to you that it will not happen again. What we’d like to do is provide a walk-through of what happened, our key learns and what we’ve done to ensure that this will not happen again. Will that work for you?

The client went with my lead, and we had a VERY cordial and productive meeting. I didn’t realize the impact of this approach until many days later…

The IT person of this client company, who was in the above meeting, was on the phone with one of my customer service staff members and commented: “My boss was ready to rip your boss a new one. Because he came right out and said “we screwed up” and took full accountability, all the venom that had built up immediately evaporated.

Yes, this is an example of the best possible outcome, but I assure you that taking this approach consistently provides significant benefits:

  • You will ease tensions in even the toughest situations of this nature. Clients (reasonable ones at least) know that “stuff” happens. They simply want to be assured that you understand the impact to their business and the details of what actually happened. And, that learns from the experience were taken into account to put things in place to ensure that there will not be a recurrence of a similar nature.
  • The client’s confidence in you/your firm will increase because you are willing to stand up and confirm a mistake was made and that you aren’t one to make excuses or point fingers.
  • Finally, your support team will respect you for standing up to “take the heat” (even when you didn’t have a thing to do with the mishap), providing “air support” which will enable them to focus on what they do best (the “technical stuff”).

In summary, the lesson learned is to be proactively humble and vulnerable: never defensive. If I would have walked into the client on the defensive I would have taken a bullet in the head. Instead, I elected to fall on my sword. By self-inflicting the pain and criticism, I created a more constructive environment that encouraged the client to move forward with positive dialog and actions.

And, finally, a recommended reading that can help in this regard:


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