Small Details, Big Payoff: Admitting Failure

The tiniest thing can have immense consequences for your relationship with your customers. A single feature or minor adjustment can be the difference between lost business and a loyal lifer, a referral and a scathing review, low-key efficiency and soul-killing bureaucracy. This series will help you identify and make smart, small choices that can vastly improve the customer experience you, your company, and your employees provide.

It happens. Everyone makes mistakes. More importantly, companies make mistakes. Things happen and servers go down, code goes haywire, the wrong email goes out, etc.. Any one saying differently is either lying or a week old. You want to try and prevent these things, of course, but what do you do once something has gone wrong?

Here’s a short list of tips for making your customer’s experience better in the face of a mistake:

1. Admit there’s a problem.Ignore the “fake it til you make it” line. Put your game face on and confess because customers appreciate honesty and can usually tell when you’re trying to cover things up. GrubHub’s Twitter account was hacked awhile back and started spamming people all over the place. Once they got things back under their control, GrubHub warned everyone in true GrubHub fashion. Funny AND timely.




It was a playful method to let their customers know about problem. They also stayed true to their brand by adding a little levity to the situation.


2. Admit there’s a problem AND thank the consumer. I ordered a custom laptop skin from Fathead (looks great, by the way) and received an email thanking me for my purchase of a wall skin. I was certain I’d processed things properly on my end, so I reached out to Fathead on Twitter. Not only did they respond with an admission of ‘failure,’ they thanked me in a pretty endearing manner. With a response like that, they earned an engaged customer willing to come back to them for more business in the future.




3. Admit there’s a problem, thank the customer, AND tell them how you plan to fix it to prevent future errors.In 2008, Joel Spolsky of Fog Creek Software wrote a blog post entitled Five Whys. Yes, I said 2008. Joel and Fog Creek Software left a big enough impression on me that I still reference them several years later. The blog tells the story of their system administrator’s valiant battle against a huge server outage. After fixing the mistake, the company did a post-mortem (incorporating the “five whys” concept and set up a blog to document future outages. Additionally, customers whose accounts were affected could call in for an invoice credit.

There you have it. Admit your mistakes, thank your customers, and let them in on the fix-it process. You not only demonstrate that you value their business, but also that you’re honestly working to serve their best interest. The best part? Your company stays top-of-mind, so that they’ll come back to you time and time again.