For the time being at least, most of us working in the insurance industry are humans. That means we will inevitably make mistakes. Sometimes the mistakes are fairly minor and embarrassing, like a typo in an email. Sometimes they have serious repercussions, like missing a deadline or quoting inaccurate information to a client. Regardless of the situation, there are three simple steps that we can take to deal with our mistakes in a professional manner.
Step One: Acknowledge and Apologize
Admittedly, this step makes some companies nervous. They fear that employees saying, “We screwed up” (albeit in more professional language) will open the company to liability or permanently damage the company’s brand or reputation.
Still, it’s human nature to look for who is responsible. If we leave that impulse unaddressed, clients are going to fill in the blanks for themselves – possibly with inaccurate information. Now you face not only the fallout from the actual mistake but also from the perception that you or your company are trying to hide the mistake.
Keep in mind that your customers are also humans. I’m willing to bet they’ve made mistakes, too. The key to successfully acknowledging a mistake is to avoid emotional responses. This isn’t the time to beat yourself up or offer rambling excuses. Calmly and professionally acknowledge what happened and what should have happened. Offer a sincere apology, and move quickly to Step Two.
If you genuinely feel unable to say, “I’m sorry. It was my mistake,” you can always go with the softer option, “I regret the situation and any inconvenience it has caused you/distress you feel.” It’s not ideal (as a customer, I always find it a bit suspicious), but at least it’s something.
Never under ANY circumstances attempt to push the blame onto a co-worker or worse, the customer, though!
Step Two: Reframe
After acknowledging that you made a mistake, the next step is to reframe the discussion to focus on the future and how you are going to fix the situation. Many people jump to the conclusion that this means refunding money the client paid for the service or goods, but start by asking the client what would make them feel better about the situation.
Many times people are happy simply to have the problem corrected. A little extra attention also goes a long way to rebuilding a client’s trust in you and your company. If a mistake can’t be corrected – and especially if the client suffered a material loss because of the error – it may be time to consider some sort of financial compensation.
One more thing you can do is put a client who’s had a less-than-perfect experience on a TLC List. Ask everyone on your team who interacts with that client to make a special effort to ensure things go smoothly in the future. After all, one mistake may be forgiven as “only human.” But multiple mistakes … that smacks of incompetence or at least a lack of professionalism.
Step Three: Dive Deeper
The final step to dealing with a mistake in a professional way to doing everything you can to ensure that the same (or a very similar) mistake doesn’t happen again. Surprisingly few mistakes are truly one-off events. There tend to be deeper, root causes that result in those oops moments.
Many people will explain a mistake with a superficial comment such as, “I was in a hurry” or “I just wasn’t paying close enough attention.” This may be perfectly true, but take time to dive deeper. What caused them to be in a hurry? Was the task deadline unreasonable? Is the division of work out of balance? Did the team member lack the training or resources to respond effectively to the situation? Perhaps they need some additional coaching on time management or setting priorities. If it’s a question of not paying attention, what are the distractions in the work environment that prevent them from focus? Perhaps they need to take short breaks or rotate among several tasks so they can approach each with fresh eyes and a focused mind.
If investigating the root cause reveals a systemic or procedural problem, take steps to correct the underlying issue(s). You might even want to look at similar processes to see if they have the same vulnerabilities.
A Word for Employers and Managers
There are times when employees attempt to hide their mistakes. This is a very serious issue, of course, because mistakes rarely fix themselves. While you obviously need to address the behavior, be sure to take an honest look at yourself and your leadership style at the same time.
An employee who genuinely doesn’t care about doing a good job needs to go. But often employees hide mistakes because they fear retaliation. Sometimes this fear is unreasonable. If this is the case, clearly communicating your expectations and offering a little encouragement will likely do the trick.
Sometimes, though, companies have a culture of fear or shaming that encourages team members to avoid taking responsibility for errors. Some leaders see this environment as one that encourages peak performance, but often such cultures evolve slowly and are unintended. They are also toxic and rarely yield the results that the leaders desire. Eventually, even the best employees will burn out from the unrelenting pressure to be perfect!
None of us like making mistakes. But they don’t have to be the end of the world! A mistake should always be an opportunity for improvement and growth.