customer service

Own Your Mistakes – A feel good story about a true above and beyond.


When we make mistakes it’s good to own them. Don’t dawdle, don’t justify, don’t downplay – just own it quickly and honestly. 

A couple of weeks ago we made a mistake at work and we inconvenienced one of our Residents in a big way. It was a perfectly honest mistake, but in the process it appears we may have broken their TV. Not good, not good at all. 

In my experience, these things happen once a year or so -you know, where your company screws up royally and you’re terribly embarrassed.

You have a few choices with how to respond, but I think the best option is to honestly and sincerely own that moment.

The TV in question turned out to be a 32″ lower end model that had a few years on it. Once I received it I googled the model and found a replacement for $225. Eh, just replacing it felt… weak sauce. Here was an opportunity to turn a terrible situation and a story this person will tell, for years to come, into an epic for the ages. What to do? I googled 42″ TVs and found a sweet 1080p SMART Vizio on Amazon Prime for $449, delivered in 48 hours. This was a massive upgrade and it felt amazing hitting the “confirm purchase” button. 

In addition, we handled the rest of the remaining issues and then gave them $100 to Bonefish/Outback as the Resident’s family were in town and it gave them the opportunity to treat. It was a small cost in the grand scheme of things and it provided a great feeling to both the Resident and my Management team. 

When I initially met the Resident, immediately following our mistake, I apologized profusely and told him that it was my goal to make sure by the end of our process that he would actually be happy we managed to screw up so perfectly. He gave me a quixotic head tilt, but I assured him it would be possible, to let us take care of the situation and see what happens. Having come through in multiple ways I’m incredibly proud to say “Goal accomplished!” and almost wishing now that we screwed up like this more often.

Screw it! Or, Service is the Small Things.

If you know me, then you know I’m constantly fixated on the little things that should give businesses an edge. Wherever I am I want to think deeply about the nature of the organization and find the areas we can attack to get a leg up on our competition. Not every area of a market is one in which you want to compete head-to-head, so you pick your spots. The fronts you always fight on are the same everywhere: cleanliness, marketing, operations, etc…


And, of course, “Customer Service” always seems to be one of those areas that companies want to improve. I cringe when I hear “we really want to focus on customer service this year” as this is often the hallmark of the bureaucrat. The type that only cares about metrics of things like hold times and ever more manuals and binders. Piling rules on top of rules, salting the earth so nothing can ever grow again. 

It’s not that customer service is an ignoble pursuit, or a futile one. It’s that it is often completely misunderstood. The same mistakes occur again and again and precious few realize it and go a different path. The most common mistakes?

  1. Rigid adherence to scripture- The people actually charged with providing service are rarely taught how to think. They are taught what to repeat: company dogma. Dogma never explains the philosophical underpinnings for policies, or at least the realities that created them, it just says “we can’t do that.” 
  2. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – Sure, you’re sorry that you can’t waive this fee, or return their money, or honor this deal, but are you empathizing? Often times people know the answer before they ask, but they want you to soothe their feelings. Saying “sorry” and meaning “sorry” are two very different things.
  3. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” – Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance” is a great example of what we should be teaching in a service industry. Not ALL situations are the same. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do for someone, focus on what you can do for them. Don’t be a bureaucrat. Be a person with a brain and a desire to solve problems.

The other day I was asked by a team member if we’d put a few screws in a wall for a Resident that wanted to hang some pictures but lacked a drill to do so himself. Now, we’ve been building-the-Hoover-Dam-busy of late, but this would only take a few moments. I’m glad we didn’t reflexively tell the Resident “no” as that would have been just an awful waste of an opportunity. I’m glad for moments like this because they clarify what we’re about and what we’re not. It’s a reminder to teach what we believe.


If you take away anything from this post I hope it’s this:

Hire smart, motivated people. Then teach them HOW to think about your business the same way YOU think about it. Let them do what needs doing.

Rinse & repeat as needed.

That’s it. Free thinking, capable individuals who know the mission will always outperform robotic “representatives” droning out “I’m sorry” for a misapplied policy.