The Apology

There you go again: you missed an appointment or a conference call, or you didn’t deliver as promised. No matter how you are vibrating, life happens (Francesca, my business partner, won’t let me “festively” express myself in our blog!). Life happens. You have to live with it, and you have to work with it.

Before, I ran a small house cleaning company called Pigpen House Cleaning. If you surf over to YELP, you can see that we got awesome reviews.  We worked very hard and I am proud of those reviews. In just under 4 years, I went from having nothing to making just over 100K.

There is a host of reasons why Pigpen is no longer in business. I created it to get me through the ‘Great Recession,’ and it did what it was supposed to do. I ran myself into the ground. Believe me, I’m so much happier being a business partner with Francesca than being a sole proprietor; and doing almost everything myself. At Pigpen, I cleaned right along with the employees. I remember the long hours, working weekends, and doing damage control while working with 2+ Teams that worked simultaneously.

I made a lot of great friends, and a few enemies. I’ve always been the proponent of “if you’re not pissing someone off, you’re not doing it right.” Not everyone can be your friend, and you cannot make everyone happy. But you sure as heck do your best to make as many happy as possible. Our reviews were not just driven by how clean our toilets were, but the level of customer service we provided.

One instance comes to mind that will always stick in my memories of those four years. I had just hired a new employee. We will call him Scott. He was still in his trial stage and had been doing some awesome work. I thought to myself, ‘finally, I made another good hire.’ I had been through some troubled employees in the past and thought I had learned my lessons. It’s not always easy finding great help, and if someone says they know how to clean, then they probably don’t.

Scott was in his early 20s. He had worked with his mother in her house cleaning company in a different state. That experience definitely showed up in his trial period. I didn’t have to tell him much about what he already knew. He just needed to learn the Pigpen way of doing things, and I thought for sure he would transition into Pigpen naturally.

I had just booked a pre-wedding dinner. The client asked us to just pick up trash around the house and backyard, and to make sure the bathrooms were fresh, while the guests enjoyed themselves. For this event, I paired Scott with Brad, who was an older worker. He’d been with Pigpen for almost six months, and was really dependable.

It was my understanding that most of the guests were coming from Utah – of the Mormon faith – and not big drinkers.

iuHooray! This one is easy. The service during the party is simple, and my team gets to clean the home thoroughly the next morning.

I thought to myself: I’m going to make some money!

About an hour into the party, I’m on my way home after having dinner with a friend. I get a call from Brad telling me that Scott was drunk and passed out in the car, and the client was worried. Not upset; but worried. So, I turn my car around and head straight over. I find Scott passed out in Brad’s car; traces of vomit on his shirt and the floor of the car, and pretty much incoherent. I get him up and move him to my car to take him home. The client comes out to meet me and starts apologizing. She was worried that she would be in trouble for letting him drink, and of course, I was worried about any damages to the party AND my reputation.


It turns out that the client didn’t have a real bartender at the party, and one of the family members was pouring drinks for the night.  Scott offered to pour and…well…he did pour, most of it for himself. How can that happen in under and hour? You got me. Ugh!

The following morning, I’m at the house, with a different crew, cleaning things up. The client is still apologizing to me as I’m apologizing to her. The client would not take a discount in services, which humbled me greatly. From what I gathered, she worked with people who had a lot of money (and I mean a lot of money). She sold diamonds and other jewelry through a high profile company we all know too well. She said to me – and it planted itself right there in the front of my consciousness:

“It’s not the mistakes made that are memorable, but how they are handled.”

She commended me on how well I handled the situation. Her guests were not offended, yet mostly worried about Scott and hoped he was okay. Some of them thought Scott’s antics were funny. Of course, I didn’t think it was funny at all. But I smiled and made sure the home was spotless before they went to the wedding.

Pigpen rarely screwed up, but when we did, I always blew things out of proportion deep within the recesses of my mind, which worried 24/7. I always anticipated and exaggerated responses from the client. I didn’t go off on Scott, because everything is a learning experience, and we must grow from our mistakes. I did tell him to take 30 days and seek some help. I asked him to call me after those 30 days if he still wanted to work and could show me that he sought help for an obvious drinking problem. Sadly enough, I never heard from him.

As a business owner, I’m sure you understand the sleepless nights you have when the “shit hits the fan.” (We’ll see if Francesca lets this one through. Francesca’s Note: I’ll give you this one). Your whole life has become your business and when something goes wrong, you take it personally. No matter how many people try to explain that “you are not your business,” we both know we are.

How you handle the mistake is more memorable than the mistake itself. When you screw up, you don’t need to lay prostrate at the feet of your client, begging for forgiveness. I honestly did that in the beginning and it only belittled me. So after 4+ years of running my own business and making mistakes, here’s how I handle them:

Bill’s 3-Strike Program

1st Mistake

Depending on the mistake, simply apologize once or twice and let it go. Something more egregious, offer a discount on the next service. Don’t go broke with the discounts, but a little something means a lot. Reiterate to the client that it won’t happen again.

Own your mistakes. Excuses are annoying. If you make excuses, you are not owning that fact that you screwed up. Every time I honestly said to a client, “I have no excuse. I screwed up and it won’t happen again,” all I got from the client was more trust in me and my business.

Repeat – Mistake #1

Depending on how long it was after the first mistake – offer a deeper discount. Let them know it won’t happen again and move on.

Take inventory of the problem. If it’s yours, continue to own it. If it belongs to someone else, talk to them and let them know there is a problem. Take notes.

But this article is not about employee relations. It’s about client relations.

2nd Repeat – Mistake #1

You have a problem and if don’t do some personal inventory, then you deserve to lose the client. And if you bitch about it, you clearly don’t get it.

I did this process with every screw up that we had at Pigpen.  And when a new mistake happened, the process started all over again. I remained consistent with the 3-strike program and it worked flawlessly each time.  In 4+ years I lost five clients to our poor performance, and I accept responsibility for the loss of those clients.

Ownership of our mistakes is honoring ourselves, our staff and our business. It’s humbling and sometimes humiliating, but real growth can only come from taking responsibility. Our clients will see that we have integrity, trust and commitment.

Just remember, it is hard work to keep your business going. If you want to do it all yourself, be prepared for overload and lots of mistakes. Studies show multitasking is not as effective as we once thought.

Pen in the hand isolated over white background

When you are ready to hand off some of the Administrative stuff, theVirtual Source Team can help.  We will team up with you to mitigate mistakes, so you can focus on growth and prosperity while we work diligently for you in the virtual back office.

Make it a great day!

Bill Masters
theVirtual Source Team.


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