On Mistakes.

On Mistakes.

Danny Meyer, the famous founder of Union Square Hospitality and Shake Shack, calls mistakes the greatest renewable resource on earth. As humans, we make mistakes all day long. I made at least 20 mistakes just trying to write this article.

Like waves in the ocean, there are always more mistakes coming. The real question, Meyer says, is what will we do with them? “Assuming they’re honest mistakes and don’t lack integrity, how do we end up in a better spot for having made a mistake and addressed it really well than if you had never made the mistake in the first place?” I get to heart of this question in last month’s Look Over My Shoulder marketing program where I take members on a deep dive into Customer Service Recovery.

Meyer has coined the Five A’s of mistake-making and they have really helped our team improve our service over the years. I’m sharing them here for you this week so that you can start a conversation with your own team about how you deal with mistakes, which I agree are the world’s greatest renewable resource.

The first step is to be aware. Again, we’re assuming you’ve made a mistake that doesn’t lack integrity because if you make a mistake that lacks integrity, you shouldn’t have a job at your company. That being said, we’ve all made honest mistakes that we didn’t even know we made. The person who experienced that service failure might carry around a bad feeling for years about you or your company and you will never know about it because you aren’t aware. In my practices, I’ve provided a framework, called our service steps, so that employees can instantly recognize when something is going off the rails. This is all about awareness.

The second step is to acknowledge it. The ability to learn and grow from our mistakes is zapped the minute you shrug off a mistake or try to hide it without acknowledging it. Time under pressure is a critical factor here, so make sure you have enough time with each and every patient or customer to do the job right. And when you don’t, acknowledge it.

Number three, apologize for it. Be sincere and really mean it when you apologize. Do not blame someone else or the fact that you were busy or running behind schedule or short-staffed, etc. Just say you are sorry, mean it and then…

Number four is act on it. Fix the problem. And, fix it fast. The number one factor that determines whether a customer leaves dissatisfied or becomes a raving fan after a service failure is time. Do not allow mistakes and problems to fester.

Do your employees need approval from a manager to make a customer happy? We have a rule in our office. It takes only one person to say yes to the customer but it takes two people to say no. Most businesses are the opposite.

I’ll never forget when we welcomed a new team member to our practice who was so appreciative that she had both the authority and directive to say “I’m sorry” to our patients and to make things right for them. In her previous job, she was strictly forbidden from ever saying “I’m sorry” to the patient. Can you imagine working in a business where no one is allowed to apologize for mistakes?

Like a captain expecting to sail an ocean without any waves, many doctors and small business owners expect things to go so perfectly that they never have to apologize. They think “I’m sorry” is an admission of liability. No it’s not. It’s admitting you’re human and that you care. I don’t know about you, but I don’t make a sloshing sound when I walk, so I’m in the habit of admitting honest mistakes and doing whatever it takes to put things back on track for the patient in a big way, quickly. This is how we grow raving fans. Not by being “perfect.”

Finally, the fifth step is to apply generosity. Ask yourself if the mistake had just happened to you, what would you want the company to do besides apologize and acknowledge the service failure.

Many of my peers think it’s insane that I pass out free gas cards when patients need to drive to another location for a repair or that I keep a stack of Starbucks and Smoothie King gift cards at the front desk to make people happy if they have to wait a little longer than expected, or that my team has full authority to do whatever it takes in order to make the patient happy on the spot, no questions asked. I don’t think it’s insane. I think we’re just better at spotting our mistakes and fixing them.

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Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.