Mistakes Happen. It’s How You Handle Them That Matters.

Dang! Something in your business just went wrong. Someone made a mistake. AMistake 01 customer’s ticked off. Hey, it happens. People understand that. But the real downfall is that so often we see companies that do a poor job of reacting when mistakes are made. It’s not that hard, really. It takes a dose of humility and a customer-focused outlook to get it right. But instead a lot of company responses could be characterized as the “never-happened”, the “it’s-the-customer’s-fault”, or even the “we’ll-get-to-it-sometime” schools. I know you’ve seen them.

Have you been following the curious case of Theranos (a company offering a new technology to test blood) since last fall? That was when we started hearing the early whispers that Theranos’ technology was not working as advertised. Rather than deal with the allegations head-on, Theranos (and its high-profile CEO) chose to deny and to obfuscate the issue. The drums beat louder. They continued to deny the issue existed or say that it was actually smaller than the media made it out to be. Behind the scenes, a huge customer, Walgreens, was reeling in their relationship – eventually canceling it. The company is now in trouble; in my opinion way more trouble than they would have had if they had just handled the issue properly.

Another example. A number of years ago I saw a company release a new software product that was core to their customers’ businesses. The software was buggy; so buggy in fact that it was pretty much unusual. And in a mission-critical piece of software that can be the kiss of death. This was a big deal. The first response from the company’s CEO? Our customers just aren’t using it right. Hmmm. Poorly done. Even if that were true (which in this case it wasn’t), whose responsibility was it to ensure that customers/users knew how to use the new software? That responsibility still rested with the company. Big, fat fail.

Trust is at the heart of any business relationship – whether it’s B2B or B2C. So, how you recover from a business blunder could hurt that level of trust. But that can be avoided. Or you can even make it stronger. It all depends on how you handle it.

When you’re faced with your own business’s mistake, it’s time to get busy fixing it. But how? Broadly speaking, there are some principles you need to follow.

1. Take responsibility…now

Anytime something goes wrong, you should be jumping all over it quickly. When an error has occurred, own it. I mean really own it. Don’t blame someone else or some circumstance or (even worse) the customer. Yikes! Admit what’s happened. Apologize for it. And move forward.

And while we’re at it, learn to use personal pronouns. Avoid the “We’re sorry this happened” apology. That’s too distant. Take credit. Try “We’re sorry WE made a mistake” or “I apologize that I messed up your order”. It’s personal. It’s apologetic. It’s called taking responsibility.

2. Over-correct it.

Now, get to work on the fix. Think about what went wrong and (at a minimum) make it right. Then go a step further. Find a way to “wow” your customer. Do something unexpected – above and beyond what was needed to fix the problem. There are all sorts of ways to over-correct a problem. Offer free products/services. Surprise the customer by upgrading their order. Offer overnight shipping. Think up some new creative ideas.

Need an example? A local grocer had a policy that if a price rang up incorrectly at the register you got the product for free. Without a bunch of rules, limits, and ways around it. You got the product for free. They could have just rung up the product at the corrected price (and frankly customers would be happy with that), but they went the extra mile. They demonstrated their remorse for the mistake and inconvenience with real value.

3. Communication

I always think one of the primary keys to dealing with just about any customer interaction (good or bad) is communication. Show them that you’ve heard about the problem. How is the customer supposed to know that you’re aware of the problem and that you’re working on a solution? Tell them openly. And if the solution takes a while be sure to keep communicating. Customers should always know where things stand. No one has ever complained about being given too much info, right?

4. Debrief and reiterate

After the problem has been fixed or the error has been made right, debrief with anyone who might have been involved with the mistake. Go back to your team and make sure they understand what went wrong – and why. Was the mistake caused by someone not following the rules, someone not understanding the rules/procedures, a situation that wasn’t anticipated, etc.? In short, you need to know how the mistake happened. Then you can take corrective action.

One of the important distinctions to make is to understand whether a problem was a one-off mistake or whether the problem is more systemic. A singular occurrence? Fix it and more on. A more systemic problem is one in which the error was the result of the way your company does things or approaches something.

Here’s an example. Say a customer was not happy that you delivered their new car without a full tank of gas as they expected. If that happened because it wasn’t part of your process or on a pre-delivery checklist, then you have a systemic problem. If someone simply didn’t follow the checklist, it’s a one-off error. Either way you underperformed. But if it’s not part of your process you will continue to miss the mark; a much bigger problem with a more involved solution.

Invariably, your company will make a mistake. No one’s perfect. The true test is how you deal with it. Vow to recover quickly, gracefully, humbly, and openly. This can be a relationship builder. No, customers don’t expect you to be perfect. But they do expect you to have their best interests at heart and to deal with problems openly and honestly. And when you do, you continue to earn respect and trust. The customer relationship becomes stronger.


Being a business's leader is never easy. No one wants a business slip-up. And recovering from one can be a harrowing experience. Sometimes it also takes some help. Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let's explore how I can help you and your business succeed. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas. You can reach me at (713) 907-8429 or BCohen@IDiscoverConsulting.com

I hope you are enjoying these blog posts If so, please help spread the word. Tell others about IDiscover Consulting Group and IDiscover Journal. Share these posts. Comment on them. I’d really love to hear your ideas!