The printer and the mail house have come through for your client.  Stock arrives on time, the laser lives have been signed off, and final production is complete. Your job has dropped at Canada Post – hurrah!

And then it happens.

It could be a donor calling the Foundation Office.  It could be a fresh set of eyes looking at mailing sample.

A mistake has been made.

Admit it. We’ve all been there. Typos, wrong Pantone colours, mismatched pieces, incorrect variable text, reply coupons void of coding, substandard stock, a kill file the client forgot to send…..and the list goes on.

The agency is usually the first to hear about error.

What happens next?

First and most important: collect as much information as possible. Park whatever you are doing and make time to chat with whoever flags the issue.  Delve into the 4 W’s and, depending on the situation, you may ask such questions as: who called? What was noticed? Has the job been printed? Where is the stock now? Has the job been lasered? Has the job been inserted? When was the mail dropped?

Second: Inform.  If it’s not the client raising the alarm, they need to be brought into the conversation at this point. You need to be an open book – be honest!  It’s best to contact them by phone even if it’s just to say “‘XYZ’ may have happened and once I’ve checked it out further, will get back to you.” Once this has been done, follow-up with a quick email to summarize the situation and next steps, being sure to CC: anyone who needs to be in the loop.  No doubt this could be an uncomfortable conversation to have but I can assure you most clients appreciate the candor vs being left in the dark (or worse, find out about an error from someone else!).

Do not waste your energy focusing on the ‘how’ at this point.  That must be dealt with….but later.

Third: Assess the situation. Take a step back and try to establish what might be the impact to the donor? To the performance of the appeal? To the organization?  The information you gather will help you decide the next course of action to remedy the situation.

Fourth: Act. Fix.  And this could range from a variety of solutions such as:

  • Nothing at all. Most errors go unnoticed by the majority of readers.  To those on the front lines, it can be nothing more than a ‘how-could-8-sets-of-eyes-miss-this’ moment.
  • Have a Foundation staff member call the donor(s), explains what happened and calm the situation. From what clients tell me, this often results if a positive outcome (and perhaps even a donation). Look at this as a good opportunity to engage with your donor(s), to talk to them and to thank them for their support and their concern!
  • Execute a phone campaign. Some situations may be wider spread and dictate a larger net be cast quickly to a broader audience. If in-house resources are limited, you may need to contract an outside suppler.
  • The agency should be delving into the ‘how’ at this point with the end goal of bringing closure to the situation. Perhaps new quality control measure needs to be implemented. Or it could be how instructions and communication are handled. If a supplier has erred, financial compensation to the client may be warranted. If this is the case, the agency should be negotiating a just settlement to all concerned.

We are all human. Each day is a teaching moment. Errors happen. And when they do, they must be dealt with swiftly, honestly and fairly with clients – and donors – best interests in mind.


Banner image from Martin Abegglen on Flickr via Creative Commons.