Big Time Screw Up? Follow the Three A’s to Make Things Right

Everybody makes mistakes, but when it comes to working with clients that mistake can hit your future cash flow hard. Follow QuickBooks queen Stacy Kildal's three A's to turn the situation around.

The 3 As for saving a screw up with a client

We’ve all done it. And I’m pretty sure we all hate it. It’s a fact of life that not everyone is perfect, and handling mistakes when it comes to our clients and customers is something every business owner – heck, everyone that has a job – needs to learn how to do.

Growing up, my dad owned a residential building company, and one thing I remember him telling me when I started my business was: “Stacy, yes, you’re selling bookkeeping services, but your greatest commodity is your  reputation, integrity, and trustworthiness. Never forget that.”.

This is exactly the foundation on which I’ve built Kildal Services LLC – as a company that provides bookkeeping, payroll and related consulting, our clients have to trust us. I’ve found, over the last 10 years of running my business, that how mistakes are handled is a great way to solidify that trust, and there are two incidents that specifically come to mind.

The first was shortly after I had started Kildal Services LLC, and with my first client, and it was horrifying to me. I would go out to his offices every 2 weeks, and in between, he would fax me sales reports along with a list of checks he’d written and deposits he’d made. He accidently printed a duplicate report, and when I didn’t catch it and entered the sales in again, his bank account balance was overstated.

I didn’t realize what had happened until I saw three checks hit account… and bounced. He incurred $75 in fees. It was a knee-jerk reaction on my part: I immediately dropped a payment in the mail to cover the fees, found out WHY that had happened, and called him to let him know the situation. I fully expected him to fire me.

He didn’t fire me, and I still have him as a client today. In fact, he was completely understanding, thanked me for letting him know and for reimbursing him the fees, and said he was sorry for sending the duplicate report. I let him know that I absolutely should have caught that, and explained my plan to change our process so that we could avoid the problem again.

I didn’t realize it then, or even until I asked my twitter buddy Tory Johnson, author, Good Morning America contributor and founder of, her thoughts on this subject:

“The degree of bad is determined more by the client — and what matters to them — than by me. For example, Women For Hire had to change the date of a big career expo we were hosting, which meant two of the 47 Fortune 500 companies that were registered could no longer attend because of scheduling conflicts.

“To 45 of those clients, this wasn’t a mistake.  But to two of them it was hugely disappointing — a ‘disaster,’ as one called it. One vowed never to work with us again; the other made us jump through hoops to compensate for the inconvenience.

“We learned that we may not be able to please everyone all of the time — and that’s ok, especially if it’s for the greater good of the company — but we owe it to every client (and ourselves) to make sure they’re heard. We’re caring, concerned and committed, but never cavalier about complaints.

“When someone berates us for our decisions (or what they consider a mistake), we respectfully ask, ‘What matters more to you: venting or working towards a solution?’ That can diffuse the frustration and let’s them know you want to figure it out.

“At the end of the day that’s the best you can do: be honest, be available, be accommodating. And then move on.”

It’s taken me the better part of ten years to understand this – what might be freaking me out, may not even be an issue for the client, which is the exact thing that happened in the more recent screw up we had.

We have a QuickReview™ process for our clients: we analyze their QuickBooks setup, then give them a detailed report on what needs to be corrected in order for them to have accurate financials. When we do the review, if the client is using a QuickBooks desktop edition, the year version really doesn’t matter, since we’re not making any changes to the data. However, when we give them their QuickReview™ report, we include an estimate for clean up – and then it does matter. We don’t want to open a client file in QuickBooks 2014 if they’re using 2013 or older, because when we send the file back, they won’t be able to open it.

And I’m sure you can guess – that’s exactly what happened. We sent a file back and the client couldn’t access it, and once I figured out what the problem was, I bought her the upgrade and immediately explained what had happened. We have since included checking year version as one of the items on the QuickReview™ checklist, so that we can avoid this situation in the future.

In each case, there are three things that happen when we mess something  up with a client. (For the record, they all just happen to start with A. I did not plan that, but it works out well, don’t you think?) It’s three simple things, and we stick to this regardless of whom discovered our mistake – us or the client.

  • Acknowledgment – We take ownership of it and never make excuses for why it happened. Instead, we very honestly explain  the circumstances led up to the situation.
  • Apology – We express our apologies for the incident, and describe what our company is doing to ensure it doesn’t happen again – or at least minimize the possibility.
  • Amends – Before we contact the client, we either determine what we’ll do to rectify the situation and offer options to the client, ask if there is something the specific the client would like us to do, or we have already done was is needed (as in the case of the upgrade).

What we’ve learned is that by doing these three things consistently and sincerely demonstrates to our clients that we value them. It shows our commitment to maintaining a high level of professionalism and integrity and that we strive to be proactive, rather than reactive. As Jon Farrara says: our word is our reputation; our clients understand this and ultimately we strengthen our working relationship and their trust.

I was fortunate enough to get Bill Rancic, entrepreneur, best-selling author and television personality, to weigh in on making mistakes. Bill also happens to be one of the speakers that I am very anxiously awaiting to see at Intuit’s upcoming, one of a kind, event this October: QuickBooks Connect. I think his comment is a perfect way to end this article:

“If there is one thing I’ve learned as an entrepreneur it’s that mistakes make you stronger. I turn every setback into positive learning experiences by analyzing the situation and talking through how things could have turned out differently. My best piece of advice for small business owners handling a client mistake is to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen a second time.”

Yep. What he said…

Had your own big screw-up recently and not too embarrassed to share it?  Tell your story in the comments below.

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