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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Paving the Road with Mistakes

How you solve client problems will define your success

As a consumer, I tend to be loyal – almost to a fault. I buy Nissan cars, LG televisions, Maytag appliances, and, until recently, Hewlett-Packard computers. Like most people, it takes a lot for me to shift my worldview away from the brands I feel strongly about. A few years ago, I bought a new laptop from Hewlett-Packard (HP) but had nothing but challenges with the machine from the moment it was delivered. In short, the hard drive was corrupt, causing the computer to freeze up and shut down. After numerous online chat sessions and phone calls, I finally persuaded the company to take the product back for the necessary repair – which was done over a two-week period.

Sadly, the saga continued a month later as my repaired machine simply refused to function after it froze while I worked on a presentation. I was finally able to power up the laptop, only to find that no Microsoft programs – including Windows – would work. As the product was only three months old and well under warranty, I quickly reached out to HP and asked to return the product for a full refund.

This sad tale got me thinking that business’s actual definition is problem resolution. Perfection is impossible – both in life and in business:

  • Things break.

  • Merchandise is not decorated correctly.

  • Colors don’t match the proof.

  • Deadlines are missed.

  • Some products are lemons, like that HP laptop.

Therefore, success lies not in eliminating problems but in the art of creative, profitable problem-solving.

Business, at its core, is problem-solving.

How an organization navigates rough seas and addresses mistakes define its heart and soul. The worst mistake, however, is not figuring out how to be in a better place after making a mistake. I call this controlling the outcome.

When a mistake happens, the person on the receiving end will naturally tell their friends about it – that’s just human nature. While you can’t simply erase the mistake, you do have the power to control the outcome, so at least the story will end the way that paints you in the best light. If you create a great result, you can earn a victory with your client. In addition, the person will have no choice but to focus on how well you responded to the mistake when sharing it with others. Clients will almost always give you a chance to earn back their favor when you acknowledge a mistake and genuinely express regret for having made it.

The time frame for addressing mistakes is critical. When something goes wrong, it is essential to contact the client as soon as possible – no longer than 24 hours. At the same time, immediately analyze and review your performance to determine precisely what went wrong. No matter how much you want to try and erase what’s happened, you can’t. Therefore, there’s no reason to wait for a second or third email from someone who has now cc’ed his boss on your failure and lack of responsiveness. Instead, take the initiative to control the outcome:

  1. Respond Graciously – And do so immediately. You’re going to have to resolve the mistake eventually, and it’s always much less costly to resolve the matter as early as possible.

  2. Be Generous – By erring on the side of generosity, you defuse the inherent frustration in the situation. Apologize and ensure the value of redemption is worth more than the cost of the initial mistake.

  3. Write the Last Chapter – People love to share stories of adversity. Use this to your advantage by writing the last chapter the way you want it to be told. Use your imagination and creativity to create delight in your response, turning a negative into a positive.

  4. Learn from the Mistake – Use every new mistake as a teaching tool with your team. Unless the mistake involved a lack of integrity, the person who made the mistake has helped your organization by providing new opportunities to improve.

  5. Make New Mistakes Daily – There’s no reason to waste time repeating the old ones.

To succeed in any business, you must welcome the inevitability of mistakes. Accepting and embracing errors as opportunities to learn, grow, and profit is critical.

At the outset of my issue with HP, I wasn’t upset as I know that there is a failure rate of approximately 8% on laptop computers. However, as I moved through the “customer service” process, my irritation multiplied exponentially simply because the company refused to make it easy for me to get a refund on the computer and, at times, seemed to intentionally make it as difficult and time-consuming as possible. The result is that HP has lost a life-long client, and I have no issue sharing my experience with others because they didn’t control the outcome.

In business, the road to success is often paved with mistakes well handled.

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