BrainTrust Query: When You Make a Mistake

Discussion
Mar 03, 2011
David Zahn

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of a current article from Getting Personal About Business,
the blog of Zahn Consulting, LLC.

In spite of the best efforts, the best a business can hope for is to minimize
or reduce the number of times mistakes occur. In many instances, it is not
the mistake that will cause the small business person the greatest concern,
is the response.

Recently, while dining in a casual family-style Mexican restaurant, I had
the unfortunate incident of being seated near the kitchen and right in the
path of harried servers shuttling back and forth. As luck would have it, one
server turned a corner a bit too quickly and dropped a dish of salsa right
down my back. While no one seeks to have salsa sliding down their spine as
they dine, I was not dressed for a business meeting, did not have another appointment
to go to after dinner, and if there was a “good time” for that to
occur, this was it.  I was not overly bothered or troubled by it and continued
talking with the people at my table as a waitress offered a cursory apology
and dabbed at my shirt to dry and absorb as much of the spillage as possible.

My tablemates and I then engaged in a discussion of what would be an appropriate
next step for the restaurant to make.  The suggestions were:


  • Apology is enough. It was an accident, the server was probably mortified
    and there was no damage done.
  • A discount on the bill.
  • A free dessert, drink or appetizer.
  • An offer to dry clean the garment, or if that did not satisfactorily remove
    the stain, pay for a replacement shirt.

The restaurant did only the first and as I was not unduly impacted, I did
not make any demands, raise a complaint, or really even acknowledge in any
way that I had been inconvenienced. I continued to enjoy the meal and chalked
it up to just a funny incident that happened during my dinner.

That the restaurant did not inquire if I was satisfied with their response,
though, is of concern.  A manager could have come over and “checked in
with me” (even if no other offer was to be made).  Establishing (re-establishing)
the satisfaction of a customer, and especially one who had just had an incident
not of their own making that could likely turn the person against the business
seems like the absolute minimum a business should provide.

It is not a surprise in a busy restaurant that a spill will happen. It is
a larger mistake not to accept responsibility and attempt to correct it as
best as one can when owning or managing a business.

Discussion Questions: Do retailers satisfactorily prepare staff to handle mistakes? What procedures do you recommend?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: When You Make a Mistake"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Good topic, David. The restaurant manager should have checked to make sure you were OK and to offer to assist in any way possible. Then the restaurant should have offered free drinks or dessert.

Mistakes do occur. And when they happen, the response is the difference between a loyal customer and a bitter one. Retailers need to train their employees how to properly handle a mistake. From an employee’s initial response, to alerting management, responses should be discussed with the staff and codified.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I believe we would agree that is it is the response to the mistake that truly sets customer focused retailers apart from the rest. I am sure several responses to this question will use one of the various word lists we have all seen that outline the steps someone should take. I think the answer is simple–what is it we would like to have happen if the same thing happened to us?

The difficulty is training employees on how to achieve that goal (assuming it is reasonable). I will state that in my past I allowed this philosophy to be put in place without the proper training. The result was the following lesson–empowerment before education equals chaos. We had to step back and develop a series of training classes and role play exercises that provided the background the employees needed to be able to respond and achieve that goal with a realistic cost.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 2 months ago

A guest is a guest and nothing is more valuable than a satisfied guest. Also accidents do happen. So always figure those two factors into remedy equations.

When you are a guest in someone’s home and the host/hostess accidentally causes a spill on your spine when you dine what do you expect from the host? You expect an immediate apology, quick attention to the spill and a sincere offer to remedy the matter in an appropriate manner. That process also translates for guests dining in restaurants. They should train their people to properly handle such accidental matters in that dimension and allocate part of the restaurant’s budget to be immediately available for server’s response in such situations.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
10 years 2 months ago

Let’s face it, mistakes happen. But when they do, the business should respond. The manager should get involved and a small token of apology should always be given. If it’s only 10% off your next visit, something seems to calm the consumer and gain forgiveness. In this case, salsa down your back! Yuck! You should have gotten a meal free at least. The point is well taken. Training is needed to tell employees things happen, and here’s the process if they do.

Joan Treistman
Guest
10 years 2 months ago
Looks like we all agree that the restaurant should have done more. Management may feel its staff does not have the ability or they may not want to extend the authority for dealing with mishaps. In that case it would be appropriate to at least tell wait staff that if something happens (like a spill or forgotten entree) they are to bring it to the attention of the manager on site (with no repercussions to the staff). Explaining what we know, that a thoughtful response makes all the difference, will encourage restaurant staff to look for an appropriate remedy. Managers in the restaurant should be trained as to how to handle various problems, i.e. a few recommendations or a handy list of examples. And they should regularly encourage their staff to be mindful of this strategy. Here’s what not to do. I was eating in BLT on 22nd Street in Manhattan when a waiter spilled wine on my dress. I did not get upset as accidents happen. The manager came over and told me to… Read more »
David Zahn
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

Joan’s experience probably further inflames the negativity of the customer’s experience than simply ignoring the event. Raising the possibility of a response and then not following through makes the situation even worse.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
10 years 2 months ago
The article describes a very overt customer service “mistake” that clearly needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively. I agree with the comments made so far. I would also add that a business needs an approach for managing mistakes that matches the resolution with the issue AND with customer. Customers have different needs and motivations and different “loyalty” and knowing the right treatment approach that is easy for customer service staff to access and action is important. Too few businesses have enough knowledge of their customers to help them do this well, and even fewer track whether the resolution they applied improved or eroded the engagement a customer has with them. Many will never know whether the customer even returned or not! While it is relatively easy to see the need to identify and respond to such overt “mistakes,” the same is true for the many other less obvious mistakes a business makes. I mean the mistakes of getting the daily decisions wrong such as whether the menu items are right, are prices right,… Read more »
Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 2 months ago
I would not portray what is described here as a ‘mistake’. It was an ‘accident’. They happen. What’s important to remember is the difference between the two. However, both could have provided an opportunity for a ‘Wow’ experience. From what I can gather, it didn’t. Imagine this. The manager coming over and bringing the entire table ‘the house specialty’. An additional waitress being added to the table. The manager quietly taking care of the entire bill for the table. The manager moving them to a table ‘away’ from that path to prevent, heaven forbid, it happening twice in one visit. The manager taking David aside after the meal and finding out where the shirt came from, his size, and then delivering a new one to his home or office by the next day. Oh sure Scanner, that’s a ridiculous or an extreme response. I really don’t think so. These instances, in my view are generally missed opportunities to create customers for life and priceless word of mouth for your business. It’s a teachable moment for… Read more »
Cathy Briant
Guest
Cathy Briant
10 years 2 months ago

I remember early on in my training as a store employee that I was told to be very careful about apologizing when something went wrong as it might imply liability on the company’s part! You can imagine the impact that had to a young person at the start of their career!

So, instead of training employees on how to handle accidents and mistakes, my first employer did the opposite, and I can only imagine how well that would fly now!

I agree with everyone here, that the restaurant missed an incredible opportunity to gain a loyal customer for life.

To err is human,
To forgive is divine,
But to make it right
Is Retail Excellence

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I agree with the comments Max wrote earlier. Yes, mistakes happen. It is how you handle the mistakes that is the difference between a good place to patronize and a great place. A cursory apology does not cut it. In this example the manager should have been aware and visited the table.

I am reminded of a quote made by my good friend and sales mentor, Tom Hopkins. It does not quite fit this example so I will take some liberties. “I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed. And the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail, learn from the experience, and keep trying.” One must learn from one’s mistakes and benefit from the experience.

Larry Negrich
Guest
10 years 2 months ago

I do feel that some retailers may rely on their computer systems to compensate for a lack of customer service training. For example, I recently ordered a pizza via telephone from a chain I’ll call “Pizza Shack”–pepperoni, cheese as these are the only toppings my children will eat. When I picked up the order I pointed out there was pepperoni on the entire pizza. The pleasant cashier waved the order slip at me and said “well, that’s what you ordered.” I didn’t want to lecture him on garbage in, garbage out. (He was far too young to understand that reference.) Or that all systems have fail points that are easily compensated for with a little bit of human interaction, aka customer service. So, I suggested he remake the pizza and I utilized the wait time to go pick up a couple more bottles of wine. (happy ending) Anyway, once again I witnessed in person that a good computer system when used poorly will yield unsatisfactory results—regardless of what the order slip says.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
10 years 2 months ago

First of all, David Zahn handled the situation in a nicer way than just about everyone I have ever met would have. Salsa down the back while dining is not your ordinary snafu. Appetizers or desserts for the table or a free meal for David would be my suggested remedy, along with a profound apology from the manager, who should have been paying enough attention to notice this incident.

Worst incident of this nature I’ve seen is watching part of the ceiling cave in on a couple dining at a top shelf steak house. Fortunately, the ceiling literally fell in on top of their table, in between them. Free appetizers don’t cut it for that type of stuff.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 2 months ago
I’m sure we all have stories similar to these. I love to frequent stores and restaurants that are obviously not doing good business. I was in an upscale restaurant that recently opened its doors in my neighborhood. My wife and I were the only patrons in the establishment that evening. The food was expensive and the staff was plenty for the amount of business the place was doing. Although our server was friendly, she did not ensure our glasses were filled, plates cleared in a timely fashion, etc., etc. Why would the obviously bored staff and manager not over-serve us? It would have cost them NOTHING. The manager could have made us feel special. We could have had a memorable evening and we certainly would have told multiple neighbors about the place. Instead, we paid our over-priced bill and left. The place is now closed. Should I have talked to the manager and offered advice? Perhaps. I have done that countless times in the past, and since that visit at other places. I simply wasn’t… Read more »
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