When Mistakes With a Customer Happen

Mistakes happen… what matters most is what you do to correct the mistake. If you or your company does in fact make a mistake it could actually improve the relationship between you and your customer.

 

When you attempt to ignore mistakes, you lose the opportunity to maintain or rebuild a trust in your relationship. When that happens it doesn’t take long for the relationship to reach the breaking point. 

 

When a mistake does happen there are some steps you can take to lessen the negative impact.

 

The first thing you must do is acknowledge the fact that you or your company did indeed make a mistake. Owning up to it will show people your human side. It will bring the interaction to a more personal level. You should let your customers know that you are working on their behalf. That helps build trust. 

 

Be sincere when talking to your customer about the situation and assure them that you will take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

 

Just an aside here; don’t try faking sincerity, the only person you might fool is yourself and even that won’t last long. 

 

Second, you must put any conflicts aside. Move as quickly as possible to the actual issue which is fixing the mistake. You will never win an argument with a customer, or anyone else for that matter, so don’t make the situation worse by trying. 

 

Don’t let pride get the best of you, being defensive only makes a small problem bigger and it makes a big problem possibly too big to resolve.

 

Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes will help you better understand where your customer is coming from. It may help you realize that they, in all likelihood, also have someone to answer to within their own company. 

 

You know what they say about stuff running downhill….well when you make a mistake you put yourself at the bottom of the hill. Live with it. 

 

Mistakes happen but they don’t have to be the end of good customer relationships. It’s vital that you act to resolve the problems caused by the mistake. Not only do you stand to lose one customer but possibly all the people that customer may talk to as well.


Plus, and I believe this is most important, fixing your mistake and making things right for the customer is simply the only honorable thing to do. 

Are You Making This Mistake?

Mistakes happen, everyone knows that. Everybody makes mistakes, even you, even me as a matter of fact. I actually never go too long between mistakes. Most are small and I’m the only one who knows about them. Some are large and lots of people find out about them and every once in a while I make a mistake in front of large groups of people. The mistakes in front of groups are almost always the result of talking and then thinking of what to say later.

 

Your next mistake might be just around the corner. I’m sure you don’t like to think about making mistakes but here’s a couple of thoughts that may help you avoid making one of the most common mistakes of all.

 

The first thing to keep in mind is that it is not a mistake to make a mistake. My dad used to tell me that the only people that never make a mistake are the ones who never try. Mistakes provide us with a real learning opportunity. They can show us what not to do and sometimes provide us with clues on what we should do.

 

An absolute key to learning from a mistake is to admit the mistake to ourselves. No one has ever learned from a mistake they were unwilling to admit to themselves. If that sounds like a cliche it’s because it is. Like most cliches however it is rooted in fact. Since we haven’t admitted a mistake we’re much less likely to review our actions to see where we went wrong.  People who refuse to even acknowledge their mistakes can’t ask for help because that would require admitting a mistake. 

 

Here’s the second key to “mistaking well” – when you make a mistake, and have admitted to yourself, then admit it to others also. Don’t hide it. Accept personal responsibility for it then and there. If you’re honest with yourself, a key to success all by itself, you know when you’ve made a mistake. The sooner you admit it to others the less likely you are to make a second mistake by blaming someone else. So admit it to yourself and then admit it to others too. Don’t kid yourself they may have even known about the mistake before you did.

 

Denying your mistake or even worse, blaming your mistake on someone else almost always makes things worse. It eliminates your chances of getting help to fix the mistake. It makes you look like a knucklehead to everyone who knows it’s your mistake. Denying a mistake often causes you to make even more mistakes when you’re trying to cover up the mistake you don’t want people to know you made.

 

Never make this common mistake of not admitting your mistake. Admit your mistake and reach out for help. People admire people who have the confidence to admit they can be wrong and the confidence to admit that someone else may know something they don’t.


If you have the confidence to mistake well then it’s also likely that you have the confidence you need to eventually succeed.

Are You’re To Critical?

I’m betting there are a whole lot of people who, even if they are reading this sentence, are only paying partial attention to it.

 

They are only partially focused on it because they can’t get past the poor spelling in the title. The two mistakes in the title have tainted the entire post for them. Some people won’t read the post at all because of the grammar issues. They assume that there is little to learn from anyone who uses “you’re” where “your” should have been used. Using “to” in place of “too” likely sent them over the edge. 

 

Thank you to those of you who have hung around long enough to give me a chance to explain. 

 

The “mistakes” in the title are not really mistakes. I used those words to make a point. The point is that when we are too critical of other people we lose the opportunity to learn from them.

 

The most open minded successful people look past imperfections and use what they can to learn from everyone they meet. They realize that just because someone may misuse a word here and there or misspell a word now and then it doesn’t mean that everything they say or write should be dismissed. 

 

No one is perfect, no one knows everything and everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t mean that they are not knowledgeable or that their opinion is less valuable than anyone else’s. 

 

The most successful people and the most effective leaders know that everyone knows something that they don’t. That means they can learn from anyone and that’s exactly what they do. 

 

Every viewpoint and opposing opinion teaches you something if you can keep an open mind. In fact, you’ll learn more from people who think differently than you then you’ll ever learn from people who think just like you. 

 

Yes, typos, misspelled and misused words distract from the message. Using the wrong word in a presentation or a sentence lessens it’s impact but….. for a leader those are coaching opportunities, not a reason to dismiss the entire message. It most certainly does not diminish the value of the person making the mistake.  


Anybody can find fault with someone else, it takes a leader to see the strengths in everyone. If you’re focusing too much on the mistakes of others you’re also making it much harder to learn from what they do well. That is YOUR mistake and one that YOU should work on before you try eliminating the mistakes of others.

The Best Kind of Mistake

Everybody makes mistakes. The most successful people admit to them quickly.

The best kind of mistake you can make is one that you learn from. The worst mistakes are the ones you won’t admit. Those are the worst mistakes because you are very unlikely to learn anything from a mistake that you don’t have the courage to admit. 

Yes, I said courage because most of us have been taught that mistakes are bad, mistakes are shameful and mistakes lead to failure. If you’ve been taught that your entire life then it indeed takes courage to stand up and say that you messed up.

If you “secretly” know that you’ve made a mistake it’s a pretty safe bet that other people know it too, or they will soon enough. If you’ve made a mistake the first step in learning from it is to admit it, admit it to yourself and anyone else that needs to know. You don’t need to announce it to the world but don’t try to hide it from people close to you either.

Mistakes are inevitable and if you spend time with people who expect you to be perfect then you may want to find some other people to spend time with.

To learn from a mistake you must also understand the difference between a reason and an excuse. If you are very good at finding excuses for your mistakes then you won’t be very good at learning from them. If you understand the reasons for your mistakes then you have a chance to learn. 

One way to find the reason for a mistake is to understand the difference between an actual mistake and a bad decision. First of all, if you’ve made the same “mistake” several times it likely isn’t a mistake at all, it’s a poor decision. Mistakes repeated again and again are actually choices and to avoid these “mistakes” you must simply make better choices. 

For instance, in most cases being late for work isn’t a mistake. It resulted from a bad decision, either to stay up too late, to sleep in too long at just not leave home soon enough. If you don’t want to be late then make a decision to leave home earlier.

It’s also important to understand that not all mistakes are the result of something you’ve done. Many mistakes come from doing nothing, nothing at all. Some people fear mistakes so much that they won’t make decisions for fear of making a bad one. They fail to understand that not making a decision IS a decision and it is the wrong decision in almost every circumstance. You can learn from both types of mistakes but mistakes born out of inaction often seem to be far more expensive to fix.

Learn to view your mistakes as opportunities for growth. Don’t go out of your way to make mistakes but don’t hide from trying new things to avoid them either. 

If you’re only making little mistakes then you’re probably not pushing the edges of your comfort zone enough. Growth doesn’t come from repeatedly doing what we are good at, it comes from trying new things. Allow yourself a mistake now and then and when mistakes happen embrace them as an opportunity to discover a better way of doing something. 

You may think that never trying new things protects you from mistakes but if your goal is to grow then not attempting something new is the biggest mistake you can make. 

Never make that mistake! 

 

Don’t Worry About Mistakes and Problems

Mistakes and problems have much in common. One (mistakes) will very often cause the other (problems). No one likes either, we complain about problems and we dislike mistakes, so much so that we often refuse to admit making one. 

The other thing that mistakes and problems have in common is that less successful people seem to dwell on them. They linger much longer than is required to learn from a problem and sometimes they hang onto a mistake (usually someone else’s) as if it were a treasured heirloom. 

Successful people learn from their mistakes. The most successful people learn from the mistakes of others. Successful people see a problem as something to be tackled and overcome. The most successful people see a problem for what it is, an opportunity to come out of a situation better than they went into it.

Some people worry about problems, successful people worry about how to solve them. The most successful people don’t worry….. they know mistakes and problems will happen and they develop plans, in advance, to correct and overcome them.

The most successful people also know this simple fact: you are unlikely to ever fix a mistake you won’t admit was made and you’ll never overcome a problem you refuse to acknowledge exists. 

Dale Carnegie said that when we make a mistake we should admit it “quickly and emphatically.” Denying your mistake is another mistake; it makes it hard for others to help you. When we accept our part in a mistake and acknowledge it then others can be more willing to help us fix it. 

That means that the first step in fixing a mistake is admitting it. Acknowledge it, be specific, be honest and straightforward. Be brief as well, you’re admitting a mistake not making a speech. There is no need to make the mistake bigger than it is as a show of contrition. Accept your responsibility, apologize if an apology is called for and move on.

Problems for the most part are dealt with “automatically.” You see a problem, something doesn’t work right, you either fix it or get it fixed. You run out of something around the house you go and get more.  Most people deal with problems all the time, the little ones we don’t even really call a problem. By the way, if you have a solution it is in fact NOT a real problem.

What are real problems however are the situations that we don’t know how to deal with. Problems may also be something we do know how to deal with but it’s too unpleasant or uncomfortable for us to tackle. So we avoid it. 

There are lots of good problem solving strategies to be found on the web but let me offer you the most important one here.

Do not ignore any problem hoping it with go away on it’s own. Do not hope “no one notices” or “no one finds out.” Somebody will notice and somebody will find out. Big problems were once just little problems that were ignored or hidden. Problems do not normally fix themselves. Problems do not magically disappear and they do not typically grow smaller. 

Delay and procrastination are the fertilizers that little problems need to grow into big ones. Solve the problem the moment you know how to solve the problem, once you have a solution there is no logical reason to delay.

The most successful people don’t fertilize their problems, they eradicate them! How about you?

 

Let Them Be Wrong

I watched a colleague make a mistake the other day. I knew it was a mistake right away but he doesn’t know it was a mistake yet. It’s not a big mistake, it’s not going to be a hugely expensive mistake and though it may be a bit of a hassle, it can be fixed. 

My instincts as a person told me to “help” him by pointing out why it was a mistake. My instincts as a leader said to let him be wrong. Admittedly the two instincts have caused a bit of an internal battle for me but I’m going to take the long-term view and let him be wrong. I’ll find out more about his leadership ability by letting him be wrong than I could have ever found out by “saving” him from making the mistake.

I’ll learn how long it takes him to discover the mistake and I’ll see how long it takes him to correct it. I’ll know how willing he is to admit the mistake and whether or not he is willing to ask for help. I’ll see how he fixes it and whether or not he can think “out of the box” and come up with an innovative solution or just put “it” back to where it was. 

If the mistake turns out to cause more problems than I anticipated I can always get myself more involved and (hopefully) help solve it quickly. There is some small risk but the potential “reward” is well worth it.

A far bigger mistake would be to never let people make a mistake of their own. 

You can learn a lot about leadership by reading books. You can learn a lot about leadership by watching how other leaders lead. You can learn a lot about leadership from a good coach or mentor but the only way to truly learn how to lead is by leading. 

Leaders will make mistakes and the only way to remain a leader is to also know how to fix them. 

If you’re a leader hoping to grow future leaders then let them try out their leadership wings and understand that trying out those wings includes letting them crash now and then. You don’t need to let them crash hard and from a high distance, but let them crash just the same. 

If you see a big, expensive, and hard to fix mistake coming then by all means figure out a way to inject yourself into the decision making to avoid the mistake. Try NOT to just take it away from your future leader and embarrass them in the process. Coach them to another decision that allows them to save face and feel as if they were a part of the decision making process.

If it’s not an expensive and hugely time consuming mistake then let them fall. Be there to help them up and offer any insights requested or needed. If they learn from their mistake and fix it quickly, you may actually have a future leader on your team.

 

Encouraging Mistakes

I’m not a big fan of mistakes. That might surprise the people who know me best since they also know I make a lot of them.

I make a lot of mistakes because I make a lot of decisions. Mine are mistakes of action and they can be fixed, usually with just a small adjustment. Often, people don’t even realize I made the mistake at all.

Some people believe they can avoid mistakes by not making decisions. They fact is, not making a decision is a decision, it’s a decision to do nothing and it’s almost always the wrong decision. Deciding to do nothing is a huge mistake, it’s a mistake of inaction and it’s often much harder to fix than a mistake of action.

The most successful leaders make a decision the moment that they have the facts required to make it. They make good decisions because they have made a lot of them and they learned as much from the bad ones as they did the good ones.

I get asked from time to time about the best way to help young leaders learn to make decisions. My answer is nearly always the same – let them make decisions!

No one can learn how to make good decisions just by watching someone else do it. If you’re a leader hoping to build future leaders then you need to let your people make decisions. Even some bad ones!

Get out of the way and let them decide. Let them be wrong and let them fix their mistakes. Let them learn from THEIR experience and allow them to build self-confidence by doing… and redoing if that’s what it takes. 

I’m not suggesting any leader stand by and let their people make decisions with potentially devastating consequences, but let them make small decisions and grow their way to bigger ones.

Lead by ensuring they find the lesson in every mistake they make and lead further by helping them develop a plan to make a better decision next time. 

The ability to recover from a mistake or a poor decision can be a great encouragement to your younger leaders. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t use mistakes to criticize their people, they use them to coach and encourage their people. 

It all comes down to this: as a leader, do you have a spirit of criticism or a spirt of encouragement? One forces compliance and one builds commitment. 

One works and one doesn’t. Which one are you?