Clients are sales, and sales are your company’s lifeblood, and repeat business is the heart of your enterprise. Landing a profitable client takes equal parts hard work and luck. But what happens if your luck turns sour?

Step 1: Admit first to yourself what part you played in their disappointment.

Did you overpromise and underdeliver because you were hungry for an order and said ‘yes’ when you should have said something else. That’s getting client relations backwards. Practice under promising and overdelivering. Was the glitch a service fail? Try instilling a culture of client satisfaction instead of service to enrich the client experience.

When you take a major spill or even a minor one with a client, you need to recognize that the situation you have left them in has eroded their trust. No one likes to spend money and receive little to no value.

Step 2: Don’t let the situation go even if that seems right.

That’s whistling past the graveyard, and if you ever want that client to come back with more business, you need to decide how to address the situation. Now. And without making excuses or blaming someone else. While you might feel better sweeping the fail under the rug, the client will not forget what happened. That’s not good. So, the question is what will be the most helpful to putting the first band aid on the relationship? Start by apologizing and asking, “How can I make this right?” It might mean a refund or possibly a no-cost or reduced cost product or service transaction.

What do you need to do?

When you have let your client down, your job is to figure out how to approach them and acknowledge what happened and offer to do something they will value. You can choose to do it immediately or later, depending on what you think your client is most likely to respond to. You know them best. But failing to do anything will only make it fester on their end for sure.

A while back I spent a good bit of money (for me) for legal advice while negotiating a contract with a university. The attorney had a new solo practice and I engaged them because they said they could handle the job. They also had a resume that reflected a fairly broad range of services, some of which were close to the education space. The rates seemed affordable.

What I didn’t pick up on was that the lawyer did not know how to write an education contract. He knew it, but I didn’t, and still charged me $5,000. The deal with the university fell apart for a variety of reasons, including my inadequate legal counsel. It was embarrassing for me and also certainly made me gun-shy to go back and use that individual’s services again. While legal issues often require research, my paying for their learning curve was a future deal breaker. Had they been transparent and told me they would only charge me a success fee or charged me a significantly reduced price for their learning curve, that would have been a different story. But all they offered was an apology.

Eighteen months later, I needed a small bit of legal help again, and began asking around for referrals. My networking put me right back on the lawyer who’d let me down. When I ask them for the help, hoping they would right the wrong, I was instead offered to pay a retainer. I passed.

Step 3: Failing to right a wrong is the fastest way possible to burn a business relationship to the ground.

Had this attorney acted on my ‘small legal favor’ request, the relationship would have had a chance of recovery. A client that went away disappointed the first time is not a likely candidate to come back, but when one does don’t ask for a retainer! There are all kinds of ways to work out a transaction so everybody is happy with the relationship. It’s no wonder to me this attorney struggles to find business in the market they claim to want to serve.

Step 4: Remember, happy clients are repeat clients.

You have to decide who your target market is and how you will serve them. A smart businessperson differentiates the brand in the market and knows that it cannot be all things to all people. KFC said it best, “The Colonel Does Chicken.”

There is no doubt building a pipeline of happy customers who will bring you referrals requires few if any mistakes. But when they occur, you are being presented with an opportunity to grow and learn how to either satisfy that client or recognize why that kind of client is one you cannot work for again because they don’t align with who you are most capable of successfully serving.

Step 5: The lesson will repeat itself until you learn it.

If you continue to accept the wrong client work, say yes when you should be saying no, and deliver the wrong product and services you will find yourself going in circles in your business. Somewhere between constantly trying to plug holes and paddling faster to stay afloat isn’t a happy place to live and does not produce client satisfaction. The faster you define your target market and own any mistakes you make, the more likely you’ll be to salvage the relationship.