Last I checked, all accounting professionals are human. That makes us prone to making mistakes. Not to mention, the sheer volume of numbers that are involved, the various team members working on accounts, the high volume of clients, etc. etc. etc. It’s a miracle that we make as few mistakes as we do. And, this monthly post comes to you from a marketing consultant who’s recently made a mistake on an invoice.
So, what happens when you make an honest mistake and a client finds it? It could be a mistake on a tax return, monthly compilation, valuation report, or an invoice. The type of mistake doesn’t matter. Because now you’re on the spot and what you do - how you conduct yourself in this moment will determine your future with that client.
First, don’t panic. And, don’t try to figure out what went wrong on the spot. Instead, gather the facts. Understand their perspective on the situation. Apologize for the situation and be empathetic. We’ve all discovered an error and have confronted someone about it - whether you were doubly charged for a can of soup at the market - or your real estate agent made a $54,455 mistake on your offer price. (Both things have happened to me this week). In all cases, assure the client you are going to look into it immediately and report back to them ASAP regarding what you’ve found.
Next, look into it and figure it out - quickly. A delay here tells the client you aren’t particularly concerned with the situation. Also, never pass the buck. This decreases your trust quotient with the client and you cannot afford this right now. After all, how do you feel about people who pass the buck? Do your best to put processes in place that will reduce the chance you’ll make the same mistake again in the future. Ultimately, you need to take responsibility, fix it, explain it, and offer a remedy to the client for the mistake.
What kind of remedy am I talking about? That certainly depends on the level of the mistake. However, you will never go wrong when you over-compensate for a mistake. As a consumer you have probably experienced this at some point. For example think about a time when a waiter forgot to bring a beverage you ordered. When they realized their mistake, they brought the beverage, didn’t charge you for it, and then also bought you a dessert “on the house.” This example of over-compensation will have has you feeling pretty good about the restaurant and the waiter. So much so, that you forget the mistake altogether and sing the praises of the restaurant more than you would have if they hadn’t made a mistake in the first place.
Remember that most errors and mistakes aren’t likely to have legal consequences if dealt with promptly and openly. However, if allowed to fester, they may be made more serious. You should probably chat with your managing partner or legal counsel regarding any serious mistake or error.
As a human and accounting professional, you will make mistakes. What you do when a mistake is discovered will make all the difference. So, make your mistakes matter less. Take responsibility, fix it, prevent it from happening again and over-compensate for your clients’ inconvenience.