Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Screw Up

So you screwed up, what are going to do about it? Handling business mistakes is something I personally take very seriously, and something upon which I harshly judge other businesses. Anyone can make elaborate promises, but what happens when things go wrong? That's when you know if a company is as sincere as their marketing department would like you to believe. I'm very forgiving of mistakes, provided the problem is solved.

For example, my son and I were at a Carrows restaurant a couple of weeks ago when the bench of the booth he was standing on separated from the wall and fell forward. He fell into the ply wood structure of the booth. He was very scared, but uninjured. The manager was apologetic, and of course, the meal was free. Sure, fine, but why would I come back there? Then someone from the corporate office called and really just wanted to make sure he was alright, promising me they would check their booths and this kind of problem wouldn't happen again. She also offered to send some gift certificates, which I didn't turn down.

Not happening again was key for me, because I obviously didn't want my son injured, but I also wanted to know that it wouldn't happen to anyone else. Hospitals are realizing this too when mistakes are made. Rather than referring all serious patient complaints to their hard assed attorneys, they're attempting to mediate. They've learned that people aren't in it for the money, they often want simple things: An apology and a promise that the mistake won't be made again, including studying how it happened to prevent future errors.

I tried to keep this in mind last week when I screwed up. A customer made a special order, paid their money in advance, and we promptly did nothing. I looked back at the process and found that my employees did everything right. It was me who just didn't get the job done, who let it slip. I apologized to the customer and gave them a gift certificate for the amount of the item, in addition to still trying to get their item for them. In other words, this one's on me and I'll still get you what you asked for. It took a while, and the distributor also screwed up (no apology there) but it finally arrived, and she happily used her gift certificate to purchase five times its value in other product.

I apologized. I promised to set it right. I let her know it was my fault and that I simply screwed up. It wasn't right and she should expect better, so here's how we'll fix it, with a gift certificate and hopefully, if we're worthy, her business and better service in the future. I could get all analytical and tell you that an average customer's lifetime purchase is over $500, and a small gift certificate is the least I could do to attempt to retain their business, but there are more subjective issues at stake.

We want to have a great business. There are far better and easier ways to make money, if that's your objective. The great businesses are the ones that set things right when they screw up. Everyone screws up, and I'll be looking closer at our special order system, but regardless, making the customer happy is my responsibility and duty as a business owner.