We All Make Mistakes, It’s How We Recover That Makes The Difference


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My last post, Even The Biggest And Best Get It Terribly Wrong, was about how none of us are immune to making mistakes–even some pretty big one’s. Of course, none of us want to make mistakes. None of us want to create a bad customer experience. But they happen to all of us. Our company has made them–a marketing program or campaign that was not well thought out, service delivery that may have fallen below both our and the customer expectations.

We should seek to avoid mistakes and errors—but we will still make them. What’s most important is how we recover from a mistake. The actions we take to understand the problem, acknowledge it, and resolve it are often the most important things you can do in building the customer experience and strengthening your relationship with customers.

Too often, we don’t recognize the importance of the “problem management process,” as part of the overall customer experience and our sales activities. We make a mistake, a customer complains, we don’t deal with it, we don’t acknowledge it, we try to shift the blame, we make excuses, are we point the finger back to the customer, claiming it was their fault.

These wrong or absent responses are devastating–customer trust erodes, customers don’t feel they are being listened to, and things go from bad to worse.

Great organizations realize mistakes are going to be made. So they pay a lot of attention to how they manage the issue and respond to the customer. Great companies realize there are dozens of opportunities that arise from addressing mistakes—they can resolve the customer situation–make an unhappy customer happy–or at least make that customer feel they have been heard. Acknowledging the customer-whether they are right or wrong-is critical. Listening to them, understanding what their real concern is and responding to that concern is critical.

Great companies know that understanding mistakes is a great way for them to learn. It’s a great way to look at continually improving performance–getting closer to the customer, creating better customer experiences. Customer centric organizations know the way they deal with mistakes is important to developing and deepening relationships. They don’t walk away from mistakes, they don’t ignore them, they don’t create excuses. They own them, resolve them, learn from them and grow.

It’s unfortunate that too many organizations, large and small, don’t understand this. I could write daily blog posts just about these failures–but then it would just be me whining. This poor performance, makes those who do proactively respond to customer problems and engage their customers stand out even more. In that blog post, I spoke about a problem I was experiencing with Dell. Literally within minutes of that post being tweeted, I got queries from Dell, including queries from Michael Dell, asking to better understand the problem and how to fix it. The response has been far beyond my expectation (almost embarrassing), but distinguishes Dell, it’s leadership and it’s commitment to customer excellence.

There are a lot of lessons all of us could learn from and emulate from Dell’s outstanding practice.

  • Dell listens! They leverage all channels to listen, learn, and respond. They “heard me” through twitter and my blog.
  • Dell acts and responds! There are many who may listen, but take no action. Dell reached out to me (including Michael, himself). They reached out through twitter, LinkedIn, and email. I bet in a day or two, if I go to my mail box, I’ll even see a letter.
  • Dell took ownership of the issue. They acknowledged my complaint, they wanted to understand it, and they want to take corrective action.
  • Dell set my expectation. They said they would investigate the problem, and set an expectation about when they would get back to me.

As a customer, it makes me feel fantastic–I know there will be mistakes, I know there will be problems in any relationship. I know I probably will be the source of the problem every once and a while. All I want is a supplier that will genuinely listen to me, and act to address my issue. Increasingly, as a customer, I feel my voice is lost–that my suppliers, or the people selling to me just don’t care. That’s why the performance of a company like Dell stands out.

There’s more to learn from the Dell experience other than to know they listen to their customers and take complaints seriously. Dell is “hanging out” where their customers are, they are listening through all channels, they have organized themselves to take advantage of all channels to reach out and connect with customers. Organizations that don’t recognize this and leverage it are seriously disadvantaged. There are many organizations that would not recognize a complaint or problem unless it came to their “complaint department.” How many times have we tried to get something corrected and the person we first talk to says, “not my job, you have to go someplace else.” They may offer to transfer your call, but often don’t.

Customers expect to interact with us through many channels–through the phone, through the web, through face to face interactions, through the mail. We have to be prepared to engage the customer and manage that engagement across every channel they choose–without this we will miss opportunities. Dell’s capacity to do this is a benchmark for great practice. Their ability to leverage social channels with others is very powerful.

I concluded my last post saying that I still loved Dell products and hoped to stay a customer. As a result of the interactions with Dell, I am a more staunch supporter of Dell. How many of our customers and prospects will say the same thing about their customer experiences with your organization? It’s something to think about.

Thanks to all those at Dell for your responsiveness and your good humor!

A Concluding Confession

Sorry for a long post, but I have to make a confession. Since starting the blog, I have only named two companies in my rants. Both responded in ways that reinforced why they are truly great companies. I hope that I have recognized their excellent practice appropriately. However, it’s important for people reading this blog to understand what I am doing.

Being a blogger about sales, customer experience, leadership, and business strategy gives me a bully pulpit for all sorts of things. My goal with my blog is to help organizations and individuals be more thoughtful, purposeful, focused, and effective in building business and relationships with their customers. My hope is that I provide ideas to help organizations and individuals to create great value in every exchange with their customers. That’s my agenda–and my sub-agenda is to attract prospects who are interested in my ideas and our services (this is the hire me piece).

It’s important to understand that I have an agenda (all of us who pontificate do). Every once in a while, I write about my experiences as a customer or buyer. Usually you recognize these by me whining about something or the blog starts with “I’m sitting in my office and the phone rings…..” While I reflect those experiences absolutely accurately and don’t exagerate, it’s really important to recognize that I am writing about these because it allows me to further my agenda. I choose the examples because they fit my agenda and the messages I am trying to convey.

I hope many of my followers believe in may agenda and find it helps with their own. At the same time, I think it’s critical to recognize each of us has an agenda and to be a little skeptical, to take some of the things I say with a few grains of salt.

Also, bloggers hope to write in an engaging and brief manner (though certainly not with this post). We tend to take very complex and difficult issues and over simplify them. Partly that’s our purpose–to help readers crystallize and better understand some of the issues they may face, as well as potential solutions. At the same time, today’s business world is very complex and difficult. The issues sales and marketing professionals face are not trivial. Executing what may seem so simple in a blog post, in reality is very challenging. It’s important for bloggers and readers to understand this. We seek simplicity, we look for simple solutions, but implementing them can be very challenging and complex.

It’s important for my readers to recognize my agenda-to be appropriately skeptical, to push me and challenge me to keep me honest and pragmatic. It’s important to realize that however easy it is to express some ideas in a few hundred words, making it work in the real world is where the real work and real challenge is.

Thanks for your support, patience, and contribution

FREE eBook: Understand How Your Customers Make Decisions, email [email protected] for a copy

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Hello Dave,
    I really like your post, I think we have to share both good and bad experiencies. This is the only way that we can show the challenge that means delivering a great customer experience.
    Thank you!

  2. What infuriates me is that Ebay and some other companies that I deal with never admit that they make a mistake. I’m always the one that has done something wrong. The email in response to my question or complaint usually includes instructions that have nothing to do with the problem I described or take me through the same steps that got me to the problem in the first place. Now it’s possible that I misinterpreted the instructions, but I have a doctorate from Yale so that my intelligence may not be to blame but rather the clarity of the instructions.

    As a concrete examples, Ebay recently told me that I violated a rule that just doesn’t exist in their documentation. I checked first before asking my question.

    On the other hand, in the similar situations, I’ve had good experiences with Amazon where the first level support person has said “I don’t know” and then put me on hold to find the answer. Perhaps this is why Ebay is in decline and Amazon is on an upswing.


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