Recovering From a Bad First Impression

Our company is comprised of several businesses. One is our monthly newspaper, A Sandusky Bay Journal, which is supported by the ads that it sells. I was teaching business seminars at a college, and decided that since I knew the college I would try to get them to take out an ad in our paper. I dropped in at the marketing coordinator's office to see if I could get an appointment. The marketing coordinator was called up front to talk to me, and he was not pleased by the interruption. He seemed to instantly assume that I was an annoying salesperson. I stayed polite, answering his rapid questions about my newspaper. He did agree to an appointment to discuss it further, but didn't seem happy about it. Before I left the college, I went to my contract manager in the continuing education department, and told her what had happened. When I arrived the next week for my meeting with the marketing coordinator, the first thing he did was apologize. He said he "didn't know who I was." I successfully sold him some ad space in the newspaper.

In this case, I used the other contacts that I had at the same institution, to smooth over my poor initial contact. Now, I try to make sure that, if I know someone who knows the marketing person for an institution, I ask them to speak to the person first, before I ever approach them. Then I can go in and say, "Sally Smith told me I should visit with you." More recently, I was talking to a downtown merchant, explaining that I had been unable to get a meeting with a new prospective advertiser. I said, "Can you tell him about me?" The merchant said he already had. I asked, "Can you tell him again?" A half hour later, I was walking in front of the prospective advertiser. He saw me and said, "I can meet you next week!"

So, the key to recovery in this situation is to recruit a friendly ally to intercede on your behalf.

Recovering From a Mistake

Sometimes there is a bad intermediate impression that might cause you to lose a job.

At times in our hazardous waste remediation business, Haag Environmental Company, we make a mistake, or discover a problem that might make the client so upset that they might even fire us.

However, we have always had a continual in-house quality review. We trained our employees to tell us when they perceived that a field job had gone badly, or if a client was upset. They have always known that they would not get into trouble if a problem happened, but would only be in trouble if they didn't tell us that a problem happened.

When we find a problem, we tell the client. We choose the staff member to call the client based upon who has the best relationship with them. We choose the client contact who will not bury the problem, in personal embarrassment. When we call, we explain that our continual quality review discovered a problem. We explain the problem, and offer solutions. We then wait to see what the client will say. We hope that the client will be willing to pay for the solution. It is important that we take responsibility, but we do not apologize excessively. We also do not blame anyone. We state just the facts, and the solution. The real goal is to solve the problem. Often the client is willing to pay for the solution, just as you pay your doctor when a first diagnosis is incorrect.

The key points in this situation are:

1. Your ability to determine that a problem occurred
2. Immediate notification of your client
3. The offer of solutions
4. Remaining quiet as your client determines what they want to do

Last year, we used this approach to maintain a good relationship with our local parks. We were sampling on park land, and discovered ruts in their roads (we still think that we didn't make them). We told them about the ruts and offered to repair them, and kept our good relationship.

(Some names or genders may be changed in our stories for the sake of those involved.)

Author's Bio: 

Ruth Haag (www.RuthHaag.com) is the President and CEO of Haag Environmental Company, a hazardous waste remediation firm. Ruth is also a business management consultant. She and her partner, Bob Haag, host a weekly Internet radio show called "Manage Living" on the VoiceAmerica Business Channel. Ruth has authored a four-book series for business supervisors. She offers business management courses through local Ohio colleges, and she also provides private contract training. She is publisher of the monthly newspaper, A Sandusky Bay Journal in Ohio.