Sometimes a mistake can be a good thing

To be honest, I’ve never been very good at keeping track of things. I’m the girl that misplaces her phone at least three times a day, gets distracted when cooking dinner and lets the pot of rice burn, and works out while watching my favorite show only to realize that I haven’t moved in 15 minutes.

It’s even worse when it comes to business matters. I lose client files, forget about scheduled payments, wait “just a while” to send in an order and then am overdue by a week, and don’t send in my rent check until the 3rd even though I pass by the landlord’s 2x a day. When it comes to being organized and on top of things, I kind of stink.

Recently, I messed up big time when it came to a client’s order. First, I forgot to even send the order in and had it checked off my list when the paperwork was still sitting in my “to do” pile. When my client emailed to ask about the status of things, I stayed up until 3am sending everything in, only to forget about her storyboard and album until I was standing on her doorstep. Of course, we were leaving town the next day and so I got everything ready in a hurry and sent it in that night. A week later the storyboard was delivered, but somehow I forgot that it was a storyboard PLUS a custom frame, and so I had to send off for a replacement print + a rush on a custom Organic Bloom frame. Oh, and did I mention that the album was still in production?

A week later, everything had been delivered, along with a few extra goodies to help make up for the delay. And all was good- or so I thought.

The next morning I sat down at my desk and found an email waiting for me. In my hurry to send everything in, I had made the grave mistake of not reading all my notes and had forgotten all these special details for the album. Needless to say, it was far from what they were actually wanting and I had disappointed them greatly. And all that accumulated into these sentences:

“I am unsure where all the confusion happened. We think your work is gorgeous and we are incredibly happy with how the photos turned out. We are unsure however, why there has been so much confusion and errors with ordering.”

This was the ultimate photographer fail. I had messed up in every way possible and all my sins had found me out.

This was my wake up call. 

After crying for a little while, I wiped away my tears and made the promise that I would never again mess up this big or give a reason for a client to be disappointed with my services. But that realization and resolution alone wasn’t enough. Instead, I needed to make this right. And here’s how:

ONE – Call the client.

Instead of simply typing up an email, I showed that her concerns were important enough for me to take the time to personally call and apologize. This gave me to opportunity to maintain my integrity, address her concerns, and hopefully preserve the amazing experience that I wanted for all of my clients to enjoy.

TWO- Sincerely thank her.

Without realizing it, her honest, yet frustrated, email to me had been just the slap to the head I needed to get my act together. By examining each of the mistakes, I was able to pinpoint my areas of weakness and set up ways to ensure that this would not happen again. And I thanked her for her honesty, as well as for her patience and understanding. Not every client would still love me after I messed up like that.

THREE- Admit mistakes.

This wasn’t a time to make excuses or sugarcoat things. Instead, I needed to be honest about my shortcomings and clear in my remorse. I didn’t need to go into great details about the how or the why, instead, I simply admitted where I had fallen short, and apologized for not giving her the amazing experience that I had promised.

FOUR- Have a clear plan for improvement.

During our conversation, I thanked her for bringing this problem to my attention and shared how a new policy would be implemented, where all designs are sent to clients for approval before sending them off for production. This hopefully showed my dedicated to my clients and my commitment to making sure this never happened again.

FIVE- Go above and beyond.

Normally, if an order was late, I would include a little gift or extra print. However, this was bigger than just an extra 8×10 or a simple apology. Instead, I needed to go above and beyond what was expected to leave my client happy with her choice of choosing me has her family photographer. So, I gifted her with a complimentary session along with some digital images and gift prints. No obligation whatsoever. Instead, just a brand-new opportunity to wow her (without messing up!).

In my follow-up reply to her, I said with all sincerity, “Even with these hiccups, I want you to love your experience with Megan Marlene Photography and I promise to do whatever it takes to ensure that you are happy with my service.”

And you know what? She was:

“Thank you for offering to do the three month milestone session and offering the other gifts as well. That is above and beyond and I greatly appreciate. And thank you for going above and beyond regarding our album. We have been very happy with your work and always refer people to you when they are seeking a photographer.”

I almost cried again when I read those words. This family were literally the dream clients and I had almost lost them due to my own negligence and oversight. But by swallowing my pride, maintaining my commitment to excellence, and going the extra mile, a series of mistakes were turned into opportunities for improvement. And both I and my business are better for it.

November 7, 2013 - 8:00 pm

Dennis Shaw - This reminds me of a book title: “Failing Forward.” Failures are turned into successes when we choose to learn from them and improve ourselves.