The Response to a Mistake: There is Only One

The Response to a Mistake: There is Only One

The Response to a Mistake: There is Only One


Mistakes – we’ve all made them, and, being human, we will all make more of them.

The question is not whether we will make mistakes, rather it is about what we do once they are made. There is only one response to a mistake. Can you guess what it is?

I had made the decision to change the type of telephone system I use in my office and, through my existing service provider, arranged to switch to an internet-based phone system at a significantly lower cost.

My existing Internet company has partnered with a marketing company to manage the service, and that’s who I’ve been dealing with.

That sounds confusing, but all seemed to be going smoothing. I signed the required contracts.  I received the new phones.

The marketing company told me September 20th was the confirmed date for transferring the phone lines from the old system to the new.

I phoned my existing provider to double check. September 20th. That was the day.

I was keen to have a new system functioning correctly as soon as possible, so I cancelled several client meetings scheduled for that date. I arranged for others in my office to rearrange their schedules to make sure we were all in the office and ready to do simple things, like set up our new voicemail, as quickly and fluidly as possible.

Around 1:30 PM on the scheduled date, with all of us waiting for that enchanted moment when phone lines would magically transfer themselves from one phone system to another, I got an email from my existing service provider.

Surprise, Surprise

The email notifying me that they are pleased to inform me that my request for a transfer has been approved for the switch to my new service.

It has been scheduled and all set up.

For for September 21st.


When I complained, I was told that the fault lies not with the existing service provider (whose name will still continue to be on all the phone bills I receive, by the way) but rather with the marketing company who provided the incorrect date.

So I followed up with the marketing company. And you guessed it. they told me it was the service provider.

By this stage I began to believe all blame should be directed at me for daring to assume that anyone other than me could have been responsible for this mess.

As of this moment, I am still waiting to hear from someone with either company and my best guess is I never will.

The Blame Game

Despite the inconvenience to myself and the others in my office, what upset me the most is that no one is willing to take ownership of the mistake.

All I wanted was for a human to reach out to me with those majestic words, “I’m sorry, we messed up and we will address this immediately.”

That is the only response when you make a mistake.

The old adage ‘mess up, fess up, dress up’ reminds us that mistakes can either provide a golden opportunity to build relationships that can serve us well into the future, or, they can irreparably damage relationships and, sometimes, bring them to a screeching halt.

It astounds me the seeming lack of willingness from so many organizations to “fess up.”

Recently, a neighbour attempted to resolve a billing issue with a local power company. He was told it would be resolved within 30 days. The 30 days stretched into 40, then 50, then 60.

After 110 days of lengthy waits on hold and listening to stories of circular blame, he called a consumer reporter with a local TV station.

Miraculously, that very afternoon he received a call from a Senior VP with the company and, even more miraculously, four days later a $4,500.00 refund cheque materialized in his mail.

I can cite other examples of similar from my own experience and from stories shared with me by friends and clients.

They Don’t Care

The phone company, and power company, by virtue of their sheer size and near monopoly, could probably not care less if I, or my neighbour, take our business elsewhere or tell a thousand people of our experiences.

But few companies have that luxury, and yet that level of unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes seems as common in small companies as with large.

I believe we are all complicit in the way companies seem able to get away ever worsening levels of service.

This is true of any bad behaviour that appears in our life. It’s quite simple: we tolerate it.

We Allow It

We always get what we tolerate. A good friend once jokingly explained to me, there is a very simple way to have a stress-free and happy life; have really low expectations.

My big fear is that we as consumers have been trained, by decades of declining customer service, to have these low expectations.

Which must be why we continue to accept mediocrity as a norm.

My wife, Gimalle, applies an interesting principal when she shops: her business goes to the stores that are as pleasant and nice to deal with when she returns something as they are when she makes a purchase.  I think she may be onto something.

Till we read again.


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