When Things Go Wrong

I think it’s fair to say that there is nothing more satisfying than a successful product launch and delivery, project implementation or final handover to clients. Even more rewarding is the look of satisfaction or positive feedback from a client when expectations have been met and projects are successful. This is what all businesses strive for.

Unfortunately, things just don’t always work out as planned; in fact, more often than not things DON'T work out as we had planned. This is where most businesses fail; what to do when things go wrong.

Processes and procedures are developed and implemented to ensure things run smoothly but very few businesses have a proper, well-thought-out process in place to manage challenges, issues and shortcomings when it comes to client mishaps.

Traditionally the function of dealing with ‘mishaps’ has been customer or client service departments. Our experiences with these types of services/procedures/departments are that they are reactive, rigid and not client-focused. So... does it really address the problem?

Case Study

We recently went through just such a mishap. Even though we followed all our usual internal processes and took precautions, things went wrong. Things went horribly wrong. Well, that’s actually an understatement….Everything and anything that could possibly go wrong went wrong! During the weeks and months that followed the aftermath, trying to claw the project back from the brink while trying to hold onto a shred of integrity, we started reviewing our own processes.  From the various discussions as a team and interactions with our client, we developed the following steps:

1. Apologise


Apologising and saying you're sorry goes a long way in fostering relationships and beginning the process of re-establishing trust.


2. Be honest and remain transparent


Historically being honest and transparent with clients was frowned upon and often client relationships were predicative on concepts like: “The end justifies the means", "Only share relevant information”, and “We need to keep our integrity intact”. Research has shown that these concepts have a detrimental impact on client relationships and can in fact have the opposite effect on the trust relationship. Instead, follow the course of full transparency; say what went wrong and how it went wrong. Don’t dwell there for too long, rather move swiftly to the plan of action.


3. Make concessions


Concessions are “a show of good faith”, a way in which we can show our sincerity for the situation. These can take various forms including discounts, additional services at no additional charges and so on. The point is putting your proverbial money where your mouth is.


4. Re-affirm the expectations and discuss constraints


This is probably the most important component of your “turnaround” strategy. An easy way to ensure that expectations are aligned is to use the project outcome as a point of departure and work backwards to specific deliverables. In this way, the overall outcome is the main focus and specific deliverables become the “roadblocks” to that outcome being achieved. If any constraints have been identified, discuss this with the client in a direct and clear manner regarding specific reasons why the original outcome cannot be met. It is at this point where concessions are introduced to mitigate the frustration and once again show your willingness to correct the situation.


5. Outline the plan of action


The client wants to know how the problem, issue or challenge will be addressed. When presenting this to your client be clear, concise and to the point. Ensure that the plan of action is measurable and ensure that this is clearly linked to the expectation that the client communicated.


6. Stay in Constant communication


Communication should, at this point become the key priority. Make use of one point of contact to avoid confusion and ensure that all internal stakeholders are on the same page when sending out communications to the client. Retain copies of all communications so that information can be tracked. Report back regularly and get feedback from the client on the progress.

As a final thought; a proactive mentality is much more productive in these situations. Instead of simply planning for this never to go wrong, rather plan for when things go wrong and use that feedback loop for continuous improvement.

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