Client, We Have a Problem

By Rod Griffith
May 18, 2016

Client, We Have a Problem

The mistake you make is often less important than your response to it.

This story is real. The names have been changed to protect the embarrassed.

Managing complex marketing projects for technology companies is our business. And we strive to achieve 100% perfection 100% of the time. We come close. And when we’re not perfect, it’s often due to factors not within our control. If the printer is delayed in producing our client’s new white paper, for example, it’s not our direct fault. But that’s irrelevant. If you work for a marketing agency, you know by now—you take responsibility, regardless of who’s at fault.

And that’s what I explained to Peter when he came into my office that morning some years ago to explain the printing delay. I told him to contact the client right away to make them aware, to let them know exactly when the white papers would arrive, and to apologize deeply and sincerely for any inconvenience this delay may cause.

Not 20 minutes later, I saw his email appear in my inbox. Peter had wisely CC’d me on his note to the client. I glanced at it briefly and it seemed to match exactly what I’d recommended. Until one of Peter’s words caught me up. I couldn’t believe it. My heart began to pound as I reread it, just to be sure.

Here’s what it said:

Hi Amy,

I just got off the phone with the printer. They need to let the white paper dry before they can perform the scoring, folding and stapling. Unfortunately, this means that they will not be completed until tomorrow morning. As we had a targeted delivery date on Thursday, I wanted to let you know right away that they would not be there until Friday.

I am truly sorry for this situation and I want to apologize for any incontinence this may cause you.

I will send you the shipping tracking number as soon as I have it available.

Again, my sincere apologies,


He meant “inconvenience,” of course, but that’s not what he wrote. You’re thinking this was one of those autocorrect errors, right? But this was in the days before autocorrect existed. Peter had no such excuse.

After the shock wore off, I began to laugh. What can you do? It happened. And the best way to deal with it was to have a good laugh at it. So I told Peter to call his client, Amy, as soon as possible, acknowledge his blunder, treat it as the funny mistake that it was, and enjoy a good chuckle with her.

Proactively reaching out to the client turned out to be just the right approach. It completely defused the situation. The client even told Peter her own story of an embarrassing email mistake. Peter and Amy got to know one another a little bit better, and she remained a loyal client for years.