How to Recover from a Mistake

Mistakes.  We all make them.  Even the most disciplined and well-oiled businesses make mistakes.  Clear procedures and policies reduce the frequency, but even the best companies make mistakes. 

You can’t be perfect, so it’s the steps you take when the mistake is identified that matters, especially in our connected world where one mistake can be shared across multiple social media platforms in a matter of seconds.

The question isn’t if your business is going to make a mistake. It’s do you have a real plan in place when you do?  When we talk through this with clients, the protocols often get fuzzy real fast and depending on who you talk to the action steps vary dramatically.

Every company should have a general action plan in place to recover from a mistake.  Not only when they occur with customers, but employees and vendors too.

Depending on the magnitude or severity of the mistake, how much time you have to execute this will vary, but here are some guidelines that should get you started on creating an action plan when a mistake happens.  


5 Steps to take to Handle Mistakes

1 – Assess it.

Step back and assess the mistake.  It often is not as bad as it seems. Human nature is to think the worst.  If time allows, assemble a small team and discuss what happened to gain some additional perspective and input.  Formulate a plan after you have taken a deep breath and thought it through.  Reactionary moves without any thought have a higher probability of making the situation worse.

2 – Own it.

You have to take responsibility for it.  Apologize for the mistake.  To the person or company impacted, it’s not a vendor’s fault or some other outside force, it’s yours.  You’ve got to own it.  A good restaurant owner doesn’t blame the cook if a customer’s food is overcooked.  You (and your company) are viewed as the source, the originator.  This step sets the tone for the outcome.   A sincere apology shows transparency and helps to disarm the situation with the offended.

3 – Fix it.

There must be a resolution.  Make it right.  If at all possible, it should come at no cost to the individual or business that was effected.   This may require some creative thinking (see step 1) but sweeping issues under the rug is never a solution.  If the person doesn’t feel like the mistake was properly addressed; whether they tell you or not, they will tell everyone else willing to listen.   That is usually about 10-20 people in person and can be millions in seconds with social media.

4 – Link it.

Think of this as the step to stay connected.  It’s your opportunity to demonstrate you really corrected the mistake.   For a customer is may be a future complimentary product or service, a reason to reengage with you.  For a restaurant it could be a free meal, an auto dealership could offer a free oil change or inspection, an IT company could offer a free monitoring service, a manufacturer could offer free shipping.   For an employee or co-worker it could be as simple as a check-in meeting a few days after the mistake was addressed. For a vendor, it may be as simple as giving them a little extra business next month.  Just make sure the recipient views it as something of value.  

5 – Discuss and Document it.

It is all for naught, if the exact same mistake happens again next week and the week after.   This is where effective policies and procedures come into play.   As a company, those directly involved with the mistake and the resolution should also be involved in a follow up discussion and agree on the steps that will be taken to help insure it doesn’t happen again.

Mistakes are going to happen.   No one is perfect.  No business is perfect.  But is it how we react and handle those mistakes is often what separates the winners from the losers.   What about you?  Your business?  Do you have an action plan to address mistakes when they occur or is every case handled like it’s the first time this ever happened?  Are you that person or company that “never makes mistakes”?   

As always, we welcome any thoughts in the space below.  

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach