Taking the time to write a carefully crafted apology for letting a client down is a major step in your career.
It can be very difficult to apologize for not being perfect. It can feel very discouraging to put in so much hard work only to fail, or to end a job prematurely.
But let’s be honest, just calling someone to say “I was wrong” doesn’t usually elicit much in the way of change.
Instead of falling back on the obligatory form of speaking, look at the opportunity for one-on-one communication and continue to practice your skills.
An apology helps you move forward, forward, forward. It also establishes and clarifies how you’re going to conduct yourself in the future.
To set yourself up for success, I wrote this guide on How To Apologize For Quitting.
You may have spent the better part of a month working on a difficult project for this client, but at some point, you realized that it wasn’t worth the time.
Your time is worth more than being inconvenienced.
You may have even written a good case against the client’s demands, but all that is wasted if you don’t follow through.
This is not the time to hide your face in shame. It’s time to get over yourself and actually come clean.
Before you can walk through the door, you need to know exactly what you did wrong.
For example, a client who is demanding that you purchase their products at a certain price, but who keeps asking for change, maybe clearly in the wrong.
Maybe you missed deadlines and if that’s true, it’s time to explain your faults.
It could have been something like being half asleep and staying up all night to prepare for the presentation you had to make, but you were never actually ready to deliver.
No matter what happened, let your audience know exactly what you did to make them feel that way.
When you apologize, be clear and make it easy for the other person to forgive you.
If the client is a jerk, make sure you apologize even if it’s not their fault.
If the client is just confused and wants to know what you did, say it anyway and make it clear what you did. If the client is distraught, let them know that you feel their pain and will do whatever it takes to make things right.
If the client is reasonable, you can state how you misinterpreted the requirements, but make sure you avoid leaving any ambiguity.
It’s important to establish in advance what you will apologize for. That way, when the client asks you for a detailed breakdown of the work that you did, it’s easy to provide a clear explanation.
For example, your client is requesting a custom design that is perfectly sized for the screen of their phones, so make sure you explain your style in detail.
Even if the job itself was done perfectly, if you were unable to communicate that you’d done everything correctly, it’s your duty to give a detailed explanation of why you didn’t.
Know exactly what you did wrong so you can make your apology effective.
There is a verbal apology and a written apology.
The verbal apology is the best one because it’s immediate and leaves no ambiguity. But, if you’re looking to make a more effective apology, the written apology is probably a better option.
A verbal apology that’s poorly worded will be difficult to take. You’ll also have to say it a lot.
That means you’ll have to say it to a lot of people, in a lot of situations, and that’s just not going to work well for a project that lasts for years.
A written apology is a must. The message is written and the intention is clear. It doesn’t require you to say every word to make a sincere apology.
Think of it like the words that will later be printed in your company’s handbook. It makes a huge difference in how it’s written.
When it’s time to write an apology, you have two options.
The first is to write down your main points on a short note. You could just be honest and say that you quit.
But, if you do that, you’ll have a hard time even getting it out when you actually see the client.
You could always write in a different tone of voice and the tone of voice should be emphasized.
Instead of saying that you “quit” you could say something like, “I need to leave the project for the following reason.”
That may sound polite, but in the long run, it’s just going to seem insincere.
The other option is to write a detailed summary of your work. Not only should you give a detailed summary, but you should also state exactly what it is that you did wrong.
Not only is this better than just apologizing, but it’s also a much better apology.
That’s because you’ll be able to address the specific point that you are apologizing for, and then put it in context, and most importantly, write in a clear, decisive way.
Imagine that you got an e-mail from your client with a long list of details about the project. You could just tell your client that you’re sorry you can’t do the project.
But, if you instead write, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t complete the project. I did everything I could, but the timing just wasn’t right. I want you to know that I’m going to get your deposit back ASAP,” that will be more understandable and it won’t sound like you’re trying to convince them that you’re the most incompetent person in the world.
This will also leave no room for misunderstanding.
Recording your entire apology also makes it easy to repeat and repeat it, and adjust it over time. You can change the parts that weren’t working or remove sections that no longer apply to your business.
The most important part of writing an apology is the writing of it. This will be your blueprint. You can adjust, update, or change the points, but you will need to have a clear, concise statement written.
Then, follow that statement with the actions you’ll take going forward.
As we’ve already discussed, you should ask for your deposit back immediately.
That means writing a professional email that includes the key points of your apology, a request for the refund, and a timeline for when you’ll be paying the client back.
Most of the time, this will be a direct response to what you said in the email.