trade tales | Feb 14, 2020 |
How do you apologize to clients when a project goes wrong?

Plan all you want, but from time to time, things are going to go wrong on a project, whether it’s a mismeasured sofa or a backordered credenza. We asked five designers—Anne Altizer, Rosanna Bassford, Charmaine Benjamin-Werth, Brooke Lang and Lauren Robbins —how they handle mistakes on a job.

Brooke Lang
Brooke LangCourtesy of Brooke Lang

keep the faith

“As many nights as I lay awake thinking about every possible scenario, sometimes mistakes happen and we have to find solutions to complete the job! Once, I had a one-off client who I met for a complimentary one-hour consultation through the Designer On Call program at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. We spent our time shopping for a blush fabric to apply to a COM sofa. Sounds easy, right? Well, on the day of delivery, I got an email from the client with about 30 pictures, detailing the condition of the sofa and why she rejected the delivery. I could not understand how a simple pink sofa turned into such a debacle, but I had to apologize and fix it. It took months, and lots of emailing, and all the while everyone from the fabric company to the sofa manufacturer to the receiving company were all pointing fingers at each other. Meanwhile, the client was upset at me and I ended up apologizing on behalf of all of these companies. In the end, we picked a new fabric and had the sofa reupholstered locally. We are essentially sales representatives and the responsibility falls on us to ensure the client gets exactly what they ordered. This is an experience-based business, and problem solving is my number-one skill. I have learned to remain calm, apologize for the situation and have faith in knowing that there is a solution to every problem!” —Brooke Lang, Brooke Lang Design, Chicago

Lauren Robbins
Lauren RobbinsCourtesy of Lauren Robbins

Own it

“Of course we do our best to ensure that mistakes are kept to a minimum, but inevitably mistakes do happen—we are only human. When I first started my design business, I was working with a client on a custom sectional. When the piece arrived, I realized I had misordered the sectional and switched the long side and the short side so it did not fit properly in the room. I was embarrassed and feared this mistake would cost me my client. However, I quickly admitted to my mistake, took ownership and righted the wrong. The installation might have taken longer than initially planned and cost me more out of pocket, but the client was appreciative of my honesty. Not only have we worked together on multiple projects since, but she has referred me to other clients, which means the world to me. Sometimes your mistakes end up being a blessing in disguise and allow your true colors to show.” —Lauren Robbins, Lauren Robbins Interiors, Augusta, Georgia

Charmaine Benjamin Werth
Charmaine Benjamin-WerthCourtesy of Charmaine Benjamin-Werth

a port in the storm

“Living on an island, there is definitely the opportunity for Murphy’s Law to occur. This has happened on a few projects with delayed shipping times, items not making the boat, breakages or incorrect sizes arriving. On one particular project, all of the above scenarios happened before and during installation—tiles arrived broken, a toilet wasn’t compatible with the plumbing, a marble countertop was too big for the space. This last one was totally on me, as I neglected to include the thickness of the thinset for the tiles on either end of the countertop. This was the last straw for the client, who arrived as we were taking the countertop out to be cut down. My verbal apologies were OK, but I think that the bottle of his favorite port that I sent the following day with a card saying simply, ‘I’m sorry’ softened it all.” —Charmaine Benjamin-Werth, Antigua

Rosanna Bassford
Rosanna BassfordCourtesy of Eggshell Home

take the heat

“Whether it is my fault or not, it doesn’t matter, because I am responsible for seeing the project through. I think it’s important to recognize that something has gone wrong and then move on to find a solution. One time, we ordered a rug the client loved and only a month later did I find out that the size we wanted had been discontinued. The vendor never thought to inform me that my order was discontinued, and they wouldn’t have if I didn’t check the status. Not my fault, but I still apologized to the client. The client was gracious and understanding, and we moved on to reselect the rug. Sometimes, I think people just want to know that the error was recognized and something is being done to correct it.” —Rosanna Bassford, Eggshell Home, Brisbane, CA

pick Trustworthy vendors

Anne Alitzer
Anne AlitzerCourtesy of Anne Alitzer

“When mistakes happen, what’s most important, along with an apology, is a solution to the problem. That’s why it’s imperative to align yourself with trusted vendors who are responsive and reasonable. If I’ve established a respectful and trusting relationship with a vendor, they will do their best to help resolve the mistake. I once had a situation with a longstanding client on a custom-made dining table imported from England. Our deadline was to have the table installed for the client’s large family Thanksgiving gathering. Once the table arrived in the U.S., there were some pretty significant issues with the base. Through my receiving warehouse, I ultimately found a local antique restoration company who could make the repairs. Because I was transparent with the client from the very beginning and kept them abreast of the progress while finding a solution, they were not upset with me. Yes, I covered the costs of rental tables and linens for Thanksgiving, but at the end of the day, their table was delivered beautifully and they have an heirloom piece to pass long to their kids down the road. They are still clients of mine today!” —Anne Altizer, Anne Altizer Interiors, Charlottesville, VA

Homepage photo: A project by Eggshell Home; courtesy of Eggshell Home

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