Oops! How To Handle Breaking Something In Your Customer’s Home—Without Breaking Your Customer’s Trust

Broken vase with oops note.

I was zipping along, cleaning a customer’s kitchen. A colorful decorative bowl was the centerpiece of a hanging pass-through shelf that separated the kitchen from the dining room.

As I was dusting the shelf, I did a “one handed wipe” of the shelf and one side of the shelf collapsed. The bowl tumbled to the floor and broke into a dozen pieces.

Yikes! My first thought was “oh no, why did this happen now and with these customers”. They were very quick to criticize my work even when I did routine things, like empty the trash each visit. They told me there was not enough trash to empty and I was wasting their plastic liners. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I knew breaking a decorative bowl was far more serious than overusing plastic trash liners.  I spent a few minutes blaming the rickety pass-through shelf for collapsing.

After that wasted mental exercise, I followed my policy of documenting the damage and leaving a note for the customer along with pieces of the bowl on the countertop.

When I called the customer that evening to follow-up, she was hopping mad.  She gave me a long speech about how special the bowl was to her family and how it was from Portugal and she could not replace it anytime soon.

After apologizing for the third time, I asked her how much she wanted as compensation for the damage I caused. She told me she wanted $100.00 for the bowl. I agreed and sent her a check for $100.00 in the mail the next day.

I was pretty unhappy about using $100.00 from my Reserve Fund to cover the cost of a bowl. Then I thought about how I caused the damage with my careless dusting.

I realized then I should have slowed down, gently taken the bowl down from the shelf, wiped the shelf with one hand supporting the shelf and the other dusting the shelf. Then I should have carefully replaced the bowl after dusting.

I failed to do that and my actions cost me $100.00. I learned an expensive lesson.

Oh No!

We’ve all been there. Maybe you broke a curtain rod or shattered some wine glasses. Maybe the damage was worse, like a bleach stain on the hall carpet.

After you give yourself a minute or two to curse and grit your teeth, begin to deal with the damage you caused. Tempted to try to hide the damage? Don’t do it. Your customer will find out anyway. You should be the one to tell them.

Don’t try to duck and dodge your customer after damaging something in their home. Also avoid long drawn out arguments with your customer about fault and the cost of making things right. You may “win” the argument and lose the customer, their trust and your reputation.

I’ve heard many customers complain about former house cleaners who tried to hide the damage.  I’ve also read countless negative reviews over the years about house cleaners who refused to make things right after damaging items in a customer’s home.

Those negative reviews could have been avoided by the house cleaners taking responsibility and putting the needs of the customer first.

What If You Didn’t Cause The Damage?

Sometimes there will be customers who try to blame you for damage for which you are not responsible. In those cases, do your best to avoid arguments. Ask them to show the damage to you in person.

If you did not cause the damage, let them know why you disagree. Take photographs and keep very careful notes of all emails, texts and phone calls and in-person meetings. Be the professional in these situations. If this is a pattern with this customer, consider letting them go.

What’s Next?

When damage occurs, stop and take note of the time and date. Take a photo of the damage with your phone. The best ways to break the news to your customer are:

❍ Leave a handwritten note about the damage with a date that describes the damage with an apology.  Leave the note and the damaged item on the kitchen counter so that it’s visible to the customer when they return home.

❍ Email or text a message about the damage. Be sure to include a photo of the damage and an apology.  Leave the damaged item(s) on the kitchen counter.

❍ If the customer is home while you are cleaning, stop everything and tell the customer about the damage right away. Find out what they want to do right then and there.

It is important to ask the customer what they want to do next because this puts the customer in the driver’s seat. The item or items damaged belong to them. They know the item(s) true cost and its value to them. They should decide the consequence for the damage.


Written Records

When you get back to your office or home, add the damage to an incident report spreadsheet.  If the thought of spreadsheets make you sweat, keep notes about the damage on your phone, computer or written in a special incidents or damages notebook.

Keep everything related to this damage incident in a paper or digital folder. That includes all emails, copies of notes, photos and insurance information.

Follow up the same day with a telephone call or an email.   Find out what the customer wants to do next.

If the cost of replacing or repairing the damage can be covered by your business reserve fund, offer to pay your customer or reimburse them right away.

If the damage is beyond the amount of your reserve fund, tell the customer you will have to file an insurance claim.

File your insurance claim as soon as possible. Keep dated notes about the claim. If you talk to your agent on the phone, take notes with date and time. Keep all emails you send to the insurance agent and their response to you.

At every step of the claim process, send an email to update your customer on how the claim is proceeding.

Email is great for this because it creates a written record of the situation, that includes dates and times. Written records that include dates and times keep everyone honest.

Written records also give you proof of your efforts to compensate your customer if things get out of hand.

The Magic Words

The good news is most of the time, if the damage is not expensive, your customer will say or write to you these four magic words, “don’t worry about it”.

If they do want payment or reimbursement for replacing damaged items, offer to pay right away.  Then do it.

Sometimes, even when the customer said the four magic words, I shopped around and found a replacement item anyway. I gave it to them as a gift, with one last apology.

Finally, if they say they don’t want payment or reimbursement, let them know the offer is open for the next two weeks or whenever you return for the next cleaning.

Sometimes the magic words end the situation. Other times you have expensive lessons. It is important to remember that most damage during cleaning is caused by you, the house cleaner. Maybe you were going too fast. Maybe you were careless or distracted. When you are responsible, it is up to you to make it right.

The Importance of Trust

The main reason for you as a self-employed house cleaner to take care of accidental damage quickly is because you want to build and maintain trust with your customers.

House cleaning is a relationship business. Trust is the glue that holds the relationship between you and your customers together. Your honesty and what you do when things go wrong can build high levels of trust with your customers.

High trust = happy customers. Happy customers = steady business. Steady business = money you can count on. Money you can count on is why you are in business.


What have you done when broke something in your customer’s home? How did it turn out for you? Share your experience in the comments below. ⬇︎

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