What to Do When a Rep Makes a Big Mistake

A client asks, "One of my better reps made a significant mistake with a major account.  She told me what happened and admitted it was her fault. Before this, no problems existed with the customer. I called two executives she deals with regularly and visited them in person. Promises were made, apologies accepted. We retained their business.  

"I always enjoyed a collegial, respectful business relationship with this rep. Since the incident, we have polite but awkward interactions. She seems upset.  Did I handle this situation correctly?"

You did what comes naturally - jumped in to save the day.  From her point of view, you showed little faith in her ability to right the wrong. Worse, you probably diminished her standing with this account.

In terms of client relations and her career development, consider handling things a little differently next time.

Acknowledge Her Candor

Whenever a rep approaches you about a potential screw-up, start with, "I appreciate you coming to me directly. Take a deep breath. Start from the beginning. Tell me what happened."

This acknowledges the rep has done the right thing by bringing the situation to your attention. It leads to a more productive conversation.

Hear the Rep Out

Just listen. Don't interrupt. Resist jumping in with suggestions or criticisms. Ask questions only to gain clarity.

Getting the facts gives you a clearer picture of the issue. Take a moment to gather your thoughts on how to proceed.


The company has the final say on client matters. But the rep handles this account. For their professional growth and future relationship with this client, make them part of the solution.  

Solicit their suggestions for fixing the problem. Formulate a plan together.

Call in Tandem

Depending on the severity of the situation, a face-to-face visit could be necessary or, a phone call or Skype might be sufficient. Either way, you need to be present during the conversation. Have the rep set-up the meeting.  

Prior to the meeting, tell the rep that they lead the discussion, offer solutions, and issue apologies where appropriate. When questions or comments get directed towards you, let the rep know you'll be turning the conversation back their way.  

Say to the rep, "I'll make a comment like, 'That's a fair question. Julie and I discussed this issue. She'll talk about the potential solution.'"

Julie takes it from there. If she stumbles or the call begins to go badly, you step in only when absolutely necessary. Redirect towards her as soon as possible.


Company leaders in this situation worry about how they'll come across if they let the rep steer the meeting. Many feel the customer will perceive them as:

  • Unaware of the details
  • Abdicating responsibility
  • Not taking the problem seriously

Your presence in the meeting speaks volumes. You're listening, taking notes, participating where appropriate - and most of all - supporting a salesperson you hired and entrusted with this account. You're not running away from anything.


Post-meeting, talk about what went on. Let the rep speak first.  Make your first comments positive. Be candid about areas needing some improvement. Help with any internal follow-up necessary to fix this problem.

Mentoring Employees

Leaders recognize, acknowledge, and develop talent. Any rep tasked with addressing and fixing a problem experiences a real learning moment. You earn their respect and loyalty.  Likely, they'll work harder for you and the organization going forward.

These rules apply when the company makes a mistake, not just the rep. If an order gets messed up, the rep should work to make it right, so as to maintain their customer relationship.