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Lessons from a social media agency owner #1 – Angry client email

The first time a client sent me an angry email I cried. All morning long. I literally could not recover from that email but it taught me what to do the next time a client had a concern. And that didn’t include tears.

Here’s how it went down. I was testing out some new Pinterest strategies and I had instructed my account specialist to test them out on a client’s board for some without first emailing the client. Their account was not in jeopardy but when someone isn’t expecting something they can become angry due to the lack of understanding. This client was surprised and reacted pretty strongly to the assumption that I was doing something fishy. They sent me an email with all of those assumptions and how they felt about my actions. Let’s just say I was really clear on their tone.

woman in white shirt holding black glasses.

True to my optimistic personality I thought my testing strategies would be welcomed by the client. They would be impressed I was trying something that would result in their success. Everything would be just fine would all be fine. I love to test Pinterest theories and in this particular case, I wanted to see if what I thought would work on this account actually would. My optimism really didn’t pan out in this case.

As the kids were rushing out the door to school, making lunches, and the normal chaos of the morning I checked my work emails. I was the only one managing my inbox at the time and I wanted to make sure I stayed on top of communication. It was my #1 core value, and strength on the Strengths Finders. I thought not checking email as quickly as possible was irresponsible on my part so I put it at the top of the list.

I opened my email, saw one from this client, and read the subject line, “This is NOT okay”. My heart sank and the kitchen began to spin. The kids still needed me to help but at that moment everything in the home came to a screeching halt. My temper became super short with the kids and my heart started pounding at a million miles a minute. I read the email and instantly knew what I had done wrong. I pulled myself together, got the kids out the door, and walked to my office.

I started bawling. I felt horrible. I had a blind spot in the process and this client saw it. At that moment I felt like a complete failure. All the thoughts came flooding in. She was going to quit. No one was ever going to hire me again. I would have to lay off my contractors and the business as I knew it was over. This was all in a span of 60 seconds.

Learning from the email

I needed wisdom and perspective. I called a friend and explained the entire situation. What happened, how I felt, what I did wrong, and asked if they could offer any advice for how to make the situation better. I did three things after I stopped sobbing.

  1. I emailed the client taking ownership of my mistake. I was wrong. Full stop. I didn’t sugarcoat the email and got straight to the point and to my apology. I made a point to maintain my professionalism without letting myself go into the territory of making myself out to be the worst human on the planet, which was definitely what I felt.
  2. I let the client know how I was going to fix the problem and when it would be fixed.
  3. I sent a gift card as a tangible reminder of my apology. A fun one I knew this client would like. Even if they quit this was important for me to do. It would remind them that I truly was sorry for the mistake and to make it a little less inconvenient.

Did these steps work? Yes. The client softened, understood a little bit more behind why I did the experiment and thanked me for the gift card. It ended up being an extra little joy in their day they weren’t expecting. They didn’t fire me and we continued to work together for the next three years.

Not only did I learn how to approach my mistakes with clients, but I also learned never to check my email in the morning while the kids are getting ready for school. Everyone has to be out of the house and me in my office ready to face whatever ends up in my inbox. I continued to check my own email for the next three years until I eventually let it go to my executive assistant. Now I only check my email once a day in the afternoon and if there is an unhappy client or student email, it doesn’t get checked until the end of the day. I finally learned that all my creative energy happens in the morning and it’s not to be wasted on email.

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