Chatting with Steve, the CEO of an insurance broking firm, he shared with me a frustrating experience he had with a keynote speaker his company hired to present at one of their conferences.
The tardy speaker rushed onto stage some 15 minutes late for the start time, keeping the audience waiting. Noticeably flustered, he apologised for being late “BUT”, as he explained, the delay was due to heavy traffic and roadworks.
Nonetheless the presenter proceeded with the keynote fumbling and mumbling through the initial stages of his presentation. As you can imagine, he lost the respect of the audience the moment he revealed his Big But for being late.
This lesson from Steve comes down to this: When you let a customer down, for whatever reason, valid or otherwise, never, ever reveal your Big But:
“Sorry I missed that deadline, but…”
“Apologies for not getting back to you on time, but… “
“Oh yes, I forgot to do that for you, but… “
The Big But translated, really means this: You are not important. You’re not a priority. And that may be true, but do your clients the courtesy of never revealing it.
Instead of a Big But, try what I call – a Small Hard gesture. ‘Small’ because it’s inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things. ‘Hard’ because it requires courage in owning your mistake and investing something back into the relationship.
Take ownership when you let someone down, especially when the stakes are high, and your inconvenience costs the recipient in some way.
Here’s an example of a Small Hard gesture:
‘Sorry Mr Client, I know I missed that deadline, and that is totally unacceptable. Because of this, there is no charge for this initial work. I’ve also added some extras in at my own cost, I hope this makes up for it?’
Big Buts should always be replaced with Small Hard gestures. In the instance of the tardy presenter, the first words from his lips should have sounded something like this:
‘I am absolutely mortified I’m late, please accept my sincerest apologies for inconveniencing you all. This was unavoidable. I know your time is valuable. Firstly, there is no charge for my time today, I want to make that clear and take full responsibility for not being here on time. Secondly, I’m going to throw the kitchen sink at the time I have left with you to make sure our time together is meaningful and valuable. Are you guys happy to proceed on that basis?’
Small Hard gestures are gutsy, buts, on the other hand, are good for sitting on (so cushy and soft). However, don’t make the error of using them to soften the blow when letting someone down. Instead put your money where you mouth is and demonstrate just how committed you are to keeping and building a strong, healthy relationship.
A Small Hard gesture, if applied correctly and with sincerity, will help build your personal profile and strengthen your reputation. After all, we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Don’t let your Big But get in the way of your success.