You lied to a client and got found out. Here’s how you should respond

Sound advice from your peers

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Business owner lying to client

In February, we asked how you’d recover from being caught lying to a client. Here’s what you told us:

“Mess up, fess up”

There are two approaches we PR professionals advise when a client catches you in a lie. You can take the spin-doctor approach and try to reposition the truth—which is often received as an insult to people’s intelligence. Or you can set the record straight, an approach I’d endorse. There’s a saying in our industry: “Mess up, fess up, dress up.” That means you acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake, publicly if the situation requires it, and do anything in your power to rectify the issue. Everyone can relate to making a bad judgment. You’re going to be more respected if you admit it.

Jennifer Maloney, Co-founder and principal, Yulu PR, Vancouver

Come clean quickly

Outright lying is very rare for any firm that cares about its reputation. Sometimes, though, changing circumstances can invalidate a previous comment. Our company faced this two years ago with a key client. We immediately informed the customer that we wouldn’t be able to deliver what we said. We presented a plan for mitigating this circumstance, which, after some discussion, the customer accepted. They were disappointed, but accepted our explanation. Getting out in front of the issue, being honest about the reasons and offering a workaround were key to maintaining the relationship.

—David Edwards, Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, Zeton, Burlington, Ont.

Do apology triage

You have to ask how important it is to retain the trust of the person who’s caught you lying. If the person you lied to is not very important to your business—say, if it’s a one-off transaction—the remediation should be a lot less than if it’s someone whose ongoing business is important to yours. The greater the trust, the greater the interdependence, the greater your desire to continue the relationship, the more you have to engage in a mea culpa.

—Mark Wexler, Professor, Business Ethics & Management, Beedie School of Business, Vancouver

Get a reality check

I believe it’s very common for entrepreneurs to see the positive more than the negative. And we’re often caught out when our views don’t match reality. My perception of what surrounds me is somewhat distorted. I’m not “lying” or even necessarily wrong—it’s simply that I am not right yet

—Bryan Romanesky, CEO, Permit Masters, Calgary

Be introspective

This kind of situation is a good time to think about your company’s integrity. Take a look at where else in the business you might be playing fast and loose with the rules. And, crucially, ask yourself whether you would have continued lying if you hadn’t been caught.

—Chris MacDonald, Director, Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Education & Research Program, Ted Rogers School of Management

Got a challenge you’d like to run by your peers? Write to us at profit@profit.rogers.com.

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