It happens to all of us in varying degrees. We start out with the best of intentions, the heartiest of gusto, then fail to follow through on the goal. Big or small, your fault or not, it really sucks when you don't hit the mark.
There are various ways to deal with failing to deliver, but the best solution is always going to be right in line with WHY you failed to deliver. There is no blanket 'make it up to you' way to handle something and truly salvage the hard work you put into earning your client's trust. They will see through any attempt to bury the problem or minimize it and you'll go from a salvageable situation to doing some serious damage to your relationship.
Here are the best ways to recover after failing to deliver based on the reason why you failed:
Scenario: You messed up. Intentional or not, you made a mistake. This mistake caused the delay and now you're facing an anxiety filled meeting with all of the stakeholders waiting to see the promised product.
Cop to the mistake ASAP, as soon as you know if your mistake is a fatal one to your timeline. The earlier the better. Your client will appreciate your promptness and be glad to avoid a disappointing meeting where you and everyone else dance awkwardly around your bad news. Make sure you state the mistake clearly in as few words as possible. Over explanation or blithering on about what you thought or circumstances won't help. Let them ask if they want to know, but odds are they just want what they are paying you for.
Immediately, as in the very next sentence, state how you've solved the mistake. Don't give assumptions or estimates, give a solution. Again, clear and to the point.
Explain the impact in terms of delay and set a new deadline for the delivery. Ensuring that you will do some extra checking or testing while you're working to make sure this is a singular instance is also a good tactic.
Scenario: They messed up; they didn't get you the copy you needed, someone logged into the production environment and changed things, they didn't renew their cc on their Ad account, whatever the reason the onus is on them.
Put everything on hold. The project comes to a pause until all of the necessary information is in place.
Frame the issue in context of the next steps for them, in very clear and few words. "I can't continue to work on the site without the correct logo size as it will skew all of the page templates we create from this point forward. Correcting this will cost an extra $ dollars, so we should pause to save you that pain later."
Be nice about it. Offer to help by finding resources on your end to take care of things for them if you want to. You can, and should, set the tone of how things move forward with everyone on board without sounding indignant about the delay.
Scenario: Someone else messed up. Your contractor, their marketing guy, it doesn't matter who, but someone put a stop to the groove.
Be the voice of reason. Everyone involved will be upset, regardless of who's side the snafu is on, so someone needs to be measured in response to the circumstances. Clearly state what the problem is without referring to the guilty party, and only mentioning the deliverable at stake.
If it's your resource that let you down, then follow up as if it's your mistake in the first scenario. It's tempting to lay blame and point out that it was another person who caused the problem, but that helps no one and makes you look like you're unable to handle the shake-up.
If it's their resource that is at fault then lightly suggest a solution or offer to help. Regardless if it's your area of concern or not you'll look helpful and prompt them to be speedy in recovering from the delay on their end. It also sets the tone to allow the project to continue without tension on the matter.
There are plenty of other reasons that a job might not get done on time, but these are the most common. The main take away for all of the above is that being calm, collected, and clear will save the day.
It's only a true failure if you give up completely. Until that point you're just living the reality of working with clients. Are any of the above scenarios sounding familiar to you? How did you deal with them? I'd love to hear about how you turned an undesirable situation into success at the end of the day!