This is a guest post from Drew McLellan, CEO and Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group. See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

Clients have high expectations of us and rightly so.

heartAnd I think that most companies (and employees) bust a hump to meet and exceed those expectations. But sooner or later, we’re going to mess up.

It’s inevitable. We’re human beings and we screw up.

Whether we catch our own mistake or the client points it out — how we respond in those first few minutes will make or break the experience. I have always said: “It’s not the screw up, it’s how we handle the screw up that matters.”

Because we work our tails off to please and serve our clients — when we mess up, we’re embarrassed and we are highly motivated to correcting the problem. So we go into “Fix It Mode.”

Oops… we just made it worse. Yup… worse.

The client doesn’t want you to fix it.

Not yet. First, they want you to feel their pain. They want to know that you are sorry (you cannot substitute words here: The words are: “I am very sorry…”) and that you are upset that you have let them down. In other words, it’s time to eat some humble pie.

It’s not that the client wants you to grovel or beat yourself up. But they’re feeling pretty lousy at this point. And they want to know you’re in it with them. They want you to feel as badly about it as they do. This is less about blame and much more about reassurance that when things go wrong, you give a damn.

Then and only then, can you go into “Fix It Mode.”

If you go immediately to fixing the problem and you’re all logical and left brained — to them it feels like you don’t care. You’re just trying to get out of the jam you find yourself in. When you go right into “Fix It Mode,” it feels to the client like it’s about you, not them.

And they really need it to be about them. (As it should be.)

But once you’ve demonstrated that you’re sitting right there beside them and are feeling as badly as they are — then you can roll right into your creative problem solving and fix whatever is broken.

Ultimately, they do want you to solve it. But not before you’ve felt it. So remember: heart and then head.

About Drew McLellan

Wall Street Journal calls Drew McLellan’s blog,, "one of the ten blogs every entrepreneur should read." His passion is helping clients discover their story so they can create authentic love affairs with their customers. He's also an author, national speaker, and has owned his own marketing agency in the Midwest since 1995.

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