Accept Accountability When Things Go Wrong


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Your apology is your humanity litmus test. It is unavoidable that at some point, your business will suffer a failure that disappoints customers. How your company reacts, explains, removes the pain, and takes accountability for actions signals how you think about customers, and the collective heart of your organization.

Grace and wisdom guide decisions of beloved companies toward accepting responsibility and resolving the situation when the chips are down—not accusations and skirting accountability. Repairing the emotional connection well is a hallmark of beloved companies. It makes us love them even more.

When a beloved company apologizes for something that goes wrong, the intent and motivation is to make customers whole—to earn the right to continue the relationship. However, repairing the emotional connection with customers in distress can be costly.

Often the easy-to-execute apology is extended, but the intent is to only “get past the incident.” Beloved companies don’t consider the job done until the emotional connection with customers is restored. They turn “recovery” into an opportunity that says to customers, “Who else would respond this way?”

DECISION INTENT: Remove the Panic, Fix the Problem, and Eliminate Customer Penalties
It’s April 15, and you take the last few minutes before the midnight deadline to review your tax return before filing it electronically through TurboTax, run by Intuit. Then you click “submit” and the unthinkable happens. Your computer screen flashes: “Servers overloaded, try again in 2 hours.” Terror sets in. Your only hope is that you’ll receive understanding about your predicament from the IRS! This is the account of a blogger, who told her story to the world on the Internet. In total, 200,000 customers were unable to e-file their TurboTax returns on time in 2007. They needn’t have worried. Within one day, Intuit had apologized to customers affected by the slowdown in the company’s electronic filing process and removed their worry about having to explain to the IRS. Intuit acted decisively, humanely, and in their customers’ best interest.

MOTIVATION: Don’t Make Customers Pay for Our Mistake
This message from President Steve Bennett set Intuit’s tone and their course of action: “We deeply regret the frustration and anxiety this caused our customers. This is not the experience customers have come to expect from Intuit. It’s not acceptable to us, and we will do right by our customers who were impacted by his delay.” Intuit secured a concession from the IRS allowing taxpayer customers affected by the delay to file their returns until midnight on April 19 without penalty, and committed to pay any other penalties customers incurred as a result of the delay. TurboTax customers received automatic refunds of credit card charges made during the period of time when the servers overloaded.

IMPACT: 81 Percent of Sales Are Attributable to Word of Mouth
Intuit invested $15 million on this action. Decisions and actions like these drive Intuit’s growth. Most customers’ sentiments echoed those of the blogger who said: “Intuit has blown me away.” Brad Smith, Intuit’s CEO, attributes 81 percent of sales directly to customers telling other customers about the company. Even during slow economic times, Intuit revenues grew, increasing 11 percent in the last quarter of 2008 to $478 million. In moments of service failure, customers see a company’s character. Beloved companies put as much forethought into planning customer-experience recovery as they do planning recovery for IT and natural disasters. How many 12-hour clocks would wind down before your company responded to a customer problem? Customers are watching the clock—every minute. The amount of time that goes by before you respond tells them the story of how much you care.

DECIDE TO SAY SORRY CHALLENGE: Accept ­accountability ­when­ things ­go ­wrong

  • How would you rate your ability to accept accountability when things go wrong?
  • How would your customers say you are doing?
  • Do customers rave about “what you’re made of” today?
  • How does your decision to act decisively with the customer’s best interest in mind when mistakes occur compare with the profiled beloved company?
  • Do your decisions to “rescue” customers and make them whole again when things go wrong earn you “Beloved” status today?

Take Action: Do your “rescue” plans show a commitment to make customers whole or just get you past the incident?
Identify ­one ­way ­to ­make ­sure ­customers ­don’t ­pay ­for y­our ­mistakes.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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