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AT&T Proves It Knows Zilch About Positive Customer Experience

Want to know how to quickly turn a new customer into a vocal ex-customer? Offer pretty talk without delivering meaningful results. This is my personal experience dealing with AT&T.

First the set-up. As a part of our family’s end-of-year review of finances, we realized we were paying too much for cable, internet, and phone with TimeWarner. We went out and researched other providers and settled on AT&T’s DSL and phone bundle (we decided to nix cable for a while) based primarily on price. We placed our order on January 9 and were told the effective date would be January 17. So far, so good.

The evening of January 17, I plug in the DSL unit and nothing: no phone, no internet. I call tech support and I get a friendly guy who tells me there’s something wrong with our account but because it’s after-hours, he can’t get more information. No problem, I’ll call back in the morning. When I call New Services the next day, the individual I talk to verifies the problem and tells me the internet order has been pushed out 45 days. Why? Well, she couldn’t be sure but would get it resolved. Just give them a couple of days and it would be taken care of. A couple of days later, we are met at our door by a tech who says he’s come to turn on our phone. My first thought was, “Why the hell are you here on Friday instead of Tuesday like you were supposed to be?” But I’m happy we’re finally going to get our service – as promised – so I say, “Great, go ahead and help yourself to whatever you need.” Thirty minutes later, he returns to the door and says there’s a problem with our line and will need to come back with new equipment. Unfortunately, we don’t see him again that afternoon and I guess AT&T doesn’t work weekends so we don’t see another individual until Monday. Never mind the fact the tech screwed up the phone line and we were without home phone service for the weekend.

Monday morning another tech arrives to fix the problem and after 2-3 hours of work feels confident he’s got us all sorted out…without fully checking that both phone and internet actually work. Unfortunately, I have the mother of all sinus infections that day so I take him at his word. Later in the evening, I check on the DSL unit and I’m amazed to see the red blinking light that tells me it’s still not functioning properly. The only service that appears to be working is the phone but it only works if using the phone jack in our upstairs office (the downstairs kitchen jack that is our preferred location is broken).

Next day, I try to call New Services but because of the labyrinthine phone tree, I think I ended up talking with a central call center rep. Yes, there appears to be a problem with our account. No, she can’t determine what the problem is. Yes, I’m still going to be fully charged starting on our effective date of January 17 even though I haven’t received close to satisfactory service. Yes, she’ll make a note of my objection.

If you’re keeping score so far, I’ve spoken to at least three AT&T contacts over the phone and two techs. And our service problem is far from being resolved. Not exactly the best experience you want for a new customer, particularly one who works in customer experience.

I decide to take a different route and contact AT&T via Twitter and see if I can get someone to give a shit about my problems. I manage to get a fairly quick response from @ATTCustomerCare on January 26 and am told to send an email with an accounting of our problems.

Hallelujah! A response from Algeria, Social Media Manager at AT&T. Finally, someone who will own my problem and finally help me get our service started. Right?

Imagine my raging frustration when all I get is more sweet talk about wanting to help and escalating the issue without seeing actual results. Since the nine days since @ATTCustomerCare told me I could expect a call about resolving this issue, I’ve received ZERO calls. But I sure have received plenty of tweets of apology and reaffirmations that I’m important.

Guess what? Every one of those tweets might as well read, “Blah, blah, blah you unimportant asshole customer, we’re big and we really don’t care.” Do I believe Algeria was sincere? Yes, but it doesn’t matter if everything she says is counteracted by a company without a clue when it comes to delivering a positive customer experience.

So as I mentioned yesterday via Twitter, AT&T has not only lost a new customer but gained a very vocal detractor who will be more than happy to share his customer experience with anyone, anytime, anywhere. All the nice words, all the marketing and PR bullshit, all the empty promises mean nothing if a problem isn’t resolved. Because in the end, that’s the power all customers have over companies that prove they really don’t care through their actions.

15

What Does Customer Delight Mean Anyway?

Anyone know what it means to “delight” customers? Or what it takes to exceed their expectations? Is it even worth the effort? These are some questions raised in the latest Harvard Business Review article, Stop Trying To Delight Your Customers (or read Anne Miner’s synopsis Should you stop trying to “exceed customer expectations”?).

I once served under a VP of Services who wanted to dramatically improve customer service so he made it a benchmark to “delight” our customers. When asked how we’d be improving our service operations, he replied it was in the works. Then when pressed to actually give some idea of what a “delight” benchmark meant and how it was going to be measured, he quickly found a way to change the subject. Before long, delighting customers became just another meaningless buzzword for the Services department.

Don’t let this happen to your organization.

First and foremost, get your basics up to grade. That means committing to excellence at customer service fundamentals – like responsiveness, internal teamwork, accountability, plans and metrics…to name a few – before graduating to delighting your customers. It’s that whole crawl before you can sprint kind of thing. If your basic customer service structures and systems stink, no amount of delightfulness is going to mask the stench.

Service is just one facet of the whole customer experience. Even if the customer service experience goes from baseline to phenomenal, what if your company’s products or services remains blah? What if there are chronic issues with shipping? What if marketing’s promises turn out to be undeliverable half-truths? The point is that investing financial and people resources into creating stellar customer service just through channels like phone, web, Twitter, and self-service is a waste if the rest of the enterprise doesn’t match up.

Finally, I must admit I hate the word delight. Have you, as a customer, been on the receiving end of a customer service rep asking, “Have I delighted you today?” or “What more can I do to delight you?” It’s practically impossible for the use of “delight” to not sound condescending to the customer. And when it comes to building relationships with customers, communication and language matter.

Rather than saying, “Every business must delight (or astonish or thrill or enchant) its customers!” it’s more important to take care of the basics FIRST. Instead of proclaiming fuzzy, high-minded (while no doubt well-intended) initiatives, place initial priority on a steady dedication to practice, reflection, and continuous improvement. Your customers will love you for it.

photo credit: Metro Transportation Library and Archive (via flickr)

4

The Price Of Free And Google Voice

There’s an update – and positive resolution – to this saga.

What’s the price of free? It’s not a trick question like “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb” but a dead serious one, particularly if you’re a small business relying on inexpensive business solutions to succeed. You might use Zoho CRM for your customer database, Evernote to take important business notes, and Skype to communicate with your employees or contractors. All of these options are free (though some have paid, upgraded services) but I argue not without cost.

For me, I’ve been a user of Google Voice since back when it was non-Google GrandCentral. It was a great solution for me, providing slews of neat features all for free. There was even a time when I went on a working vacation and accidentally left my cell phone at home. No worries – I went to the online settings and had all my working calls forwarded to the vacation house. How cool is that?

These past couple of years, I’ve been a happy user…until this week when I discovered that the free service came with a high price. It turns out that I haven’t been receiving my calls to my Google Voice number for the better part of a month. When someone calls the GV number, they go to a generic voicemail and can leave a message. Except the message enters a black hole. The individual thinks they’ve successfully left a message for me but I never receive it. So for all intents and purposes, the caller thinks I’m not interested in their business (which couldn’t be further from the truth!).

So what to do when things go wrong? In my case, I have two recourses: 1) I can go to the public forum and log a question. Or 2) I can go to a private troubleshooting form, describe my issue, and wait..and wait…and wait. See, when a service is free there are no SLAs that a company has to worry about. There’s very little we can do when a problem is urgent. We’re at their mercy which is a tough spot to be in when you’re struggling to build a company or consultancy. I’m into day #3 and haven’t heard a peep from Google about this problem that is entirely their fault. Talk about feeling helpless. And personally irritated that I left something so damn important as a communication channel in the hands of a free service.

This is a situation very similar to one my friend, Paul Hudson, at Intersperience talks about in a recent article called Hidden Cost of Self-Service. I would also argue that even though Google Voice is free and that imparts risk for us users, it really doesn’t matter whether the service is paid or not. A failure to provide even an adequate level of service will tarnish your reputation and significantly diminish the customer experience. I’ve learned the hard way to not be so trusting of Google’s entire service suite or the free services from other companies. The cost to me has proved far too high.

A show of hands – are you using Google Voice for something important like your business or job hunting? Are you okay with the consequences when things go wrong? Before you answer, think carefully about your own reliance on free services (you can also take a look at some of the issues listed at the Google Voice Support Forum…it’s a bit scary).

Friends, protect yourself when it comes to the important things like phone numbers, email addresses, websites, etc. Don’t be lured by free when the cost could be lost customers. And business executives, don’t casually walk down the path of free and self-service. When things go wrong, will your customers still trust you to care for them when it really matters?

Anyone else have experiences with free services costing them more than you bargained for?


Update 07.20.10
After a few days of trying to line up a call, I finally spoke to Craig Walker, a Product Manager for Google. Turns out the major issue here was my request to move my GV number from one Google account to another. There’s an account transfer request form available through the GV help forum but it’s not exactly supported (which raises questions about why its still in existence). Associating a current GV number with a new Gmail address presents some hairy technical issues so word of warning: When you sign up for a Google Voice number, make certain its associated with a permanent account because it’s pretty much locked in.

But once I finally nailed Craig down, he was responsive in getting my call history and voicemails transferred to my Bailey WorkPlay gmail account. And he was generous in offering me a few perks including a sparkly new – and rather easy to remember – number: 512-827-9000.

6

Trouble Brewing For Starbucks?

Starbucks is taking a rather interesting (and somewhat dangerous) approach to economic decline: they’re not automatically brewing decaf coffee after noon, though you can still get it upon request. My take? Good for Starbucks. I’ll go out on a limb here and say they did their homework on not only cost-savings but quantify just how much coffee they’re throwing away daily. Rather than just keep sticking to the old way of doing things (must make sure we always have regular and decaf at the ready), they’re making some tough decisions. And better that than laying off a third of their baristas.

Now here’s where it gets to an issue of whether Starbucks has built a relationship with its customers. If you love Starbucks, you’ll accept this and say, “I understand and if it helps you stay afloat and not lay off the very nice baristas then I’ll wait a few minutes for a decaf brew.” So, the real question is whether Starbucks has valued your relationship in the past and is willing to bank off of this.

Both nonprofits and corporations must build great customer relationships in the good times so they can rely on them for help in the bad times. If you’ve not made remarkable customer relationships a key focus, now’s a rough time to ask for help from those who you need the most.

0

Being Transparent Or Inviting Your Customers Into The Kitchen

There’s some spirited debate brewing around the idea of transparency and its benefits to customer service. Is it best to let the customer be ‘blissfully unaware’ of the company’s processes (essentially how it works)? Or is it better to allow them into the kitchen to see how everything is cooked? I argue strongly for the latter. When you share how your organization works on a big picture level, you welcome customers into a deeper relationship. This openness fosters trust and trust creates a solid foundation for long-lasting partnership. Okay, so those are pretty lofty ideals. What are the more down-to-earth benefits of being transparent?

The Argument
The argument for letting customers be ‘blissfully unaware’ isn’t a bad one. Some customers simply don’t care to know how a company is going to solve a problem or execute on a request. They just want to know that they are being taken care of by the organization. The argument only becomes misguided when you assume that all customers don’t care to know about how things are getting done. Instead, let’s err on the side of giving each customer an invitation to step out of the dining room and into the kitchen. We’re not demanding, we’re allowing them to decide for themselves just how much or how little they care to see and understand. Here’s my hunch: that number of customers who do want to know will be far more than you expect.

The other, older argument has been that if you offer a transparent process to the client you’ll be taking the mystique away from the business. If that has been your unique selling point and competitive advantage, then it’s time to overhaul your service philosophy. The age of instant and voluminous information has disrupted and demolished that model. Like it or not, customers want to know what you are doing to help them solve their problems and add value to their experience. And if we want to continue to think of our relations with customers as partnerships and do it in good faith, then openness is no longer an option, but a necessity.

Benefits to Your Customers
Among the benefits of being transparent with your company’s processes and ways of getting things done is that it creates more knowledgeable customers. In the June issue of the Harvard Business Review, Simon Bell and Andreas Eisingerich report on their research connecting client education to client satisfaction and overall client success in the financial services sector. They recommend creating a more “porous organizational boundary” and give client-facing employees the time and autonomy to explain how the firm does business, gain insight into clients’ own knowledge base, and then help clients acquire firm-specific expertise.

Bell and Eisingerich also note that more knowledgeable clients are more prepared for meetings and other interactions. With a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the firm’s workings, the client is more capable of connecting his or her needs to how it can get done. Again, it cultivates a partnership between client and service provider…one where the relationship is more important than the process itself. If your company works with non-profits, I can’t overemphasize the importance of developing a trusting relationship with the client.

Benefits to Your Internal Staff
Those a couple of the benefits connecting organization to customer. However, these cannot happen until the company’s own internal operations are clarified and ready to be made fully transparent. How many executives quake in their bruno magli wingtips at the thought of having their processes opened to the light of day and client scrutiny? All the reason to do it. If you’re scared silly about exposing how you do business, ask where that fear comes from. Do you have good process or is it a disconnected shambles that manages to hide its ugliness through a mask of ‘just get it done’? Unless you have great process that’s the industry standard, opening your operations to the outside is just the impetus to clarify, streamline, and document it.

Sounds great, but how will employees take to having clients in the kitchen? It’s likely to make them nervous if they’re not accustomed to this way of doing business. However, consider the more recent trend in restaurants of bringing the kitchen out into the dining area (or maybe not so recent…Benihana has been doing it for a while). When I was sketching this idea out in my head last week, I happened to eat at a local Carrabba’s Italian Grill. There the majority of the cooking and grilling is done in an area that’s easily viewable by restaurant patrons. Want to watch them grill your Chicken Marsala? You’re welcome to do it…or not. They leave that choice to you. But by bringing the kitchen to the customer, each chef is now accountable to each other and to their patrons. Can’t get away with dropping a steak on the floor and then putting it back on the grill. Again, here’s my hunch: the number of employees who want to have better processes and more accountability are more than you think.

Check, Please…
It’s time to shed the notion that the organization’s processes, systems, and overall operations can be kept in a black box. Transparency isn’t just a buzzword to impress clients, investors, and employees. It’s something that when committed to doing and doing well, will raise your business to another level. With so many other companies out there who choose to maintain their ways of doing business under the cloak of “proprietary knowledge,” being open might just be your unique competitive advantage. In the end, even if others in your industry follow suit and open their own kitchens to the outside, it’s just a better way of doing business

From Bailey WorkPlay, first published July 31, 2007

0

Five Ways To Treat Employees Like Customers

Do you treat your employees like your customers?

Perhaps that’s a bit of a loaded question. It could be that your organization treats customers like months-old rotted fish. If that’s the case your employees are the least of your problems so go and fix that…seriously, go and fix it.

Good. You’re still here. Let’s start by asking a few questions:

  • If you learn that a customer is dissatisfied with your service, what do you do to make things right?
  • If you learn that a customer is no longer buying your product or service and is now going elsewhere, what do you do to change that?
  • If you learn your overall customer satisfaction is lower than you want, how long do you take before you decide to do something about it?

Okay, now let’s swap out customer for employee and answer these questions again. Do you approach them with a similar mindset? What if your organization applied the same degree of focus on the internal retention of employees as it does on the external retention of customers? Stephen Covey wrote a few years ago:

Some organizations talk a lot about the customer, and then neglect the employees who deal with the customer. This mindset produces unmotivated employees, worker-manager disputes and poor business results.

If you’ve been unknowingly neglecting the folks inside your organization…it’s okay. You can begin to make things better right now with just a few bold changes.

1. Make employee satisfaction everyone’s job. Just as customer satisfaction should be owned throughout the organization and not the exclusive concern of one team or department, the same must be said for employee satisfaction. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is solely a human resource issue. Every single manager and leader must be responsible for the well-being and care of employees.

2. Find out how your employees are doing. Savvy organizations employ a wide variety of more traditional tools such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups to determine the state of customer satisfaction. Now, put these methods to work inside your organization. Start by having an open dialogue with employees (note that if this is something new in your organization, you’re going to also need to build trust in order to get candid responses). Schedule regularly occurring organization-wide town hall sessions devoted to workplace issues, successes, and challenges. And even though I’m not a fan of employee surveys, they can be effective in support of these other information gathering methods.

3. Make social media one cornerstone of your strategy. Don’t worry about whether or not you understand social media…I’m suggesting that you apply some guiding principles that drive it. These principles include authenticity, transparency, and shared ownership. Appreciate and encourage informal connections between employees and managers, particularly connections outside the more formal hierarchical lines. Lead the kind of change in how people within your organization relate to each other.

4. Communicate openly and often. If your customers hate being left in the dark about how you plan to improve their experience, your employees hate it even more. Don’t be a miser with information, even if you think it’s unimportant. Publish your plan for everyone to see, show the positive progress, show the places where things aren’t going as smooth, and be upfront with lessons that are being learned along the way. When there’s an absence of information, employees will definitely create whatever they want to fill that vacuum.

5. Finally, take decisive action. If you introduce these initiatives into your working culture, it’s absolutely necessary to take swift and consistent action. The key to success will likely rest in whether employees feel these changes are authentic and not just another “flavor of the month” activity from management. Empathize with your employees who may have been snakebit by change initiatives in the past and may view this with a wary and skeptical eye.

Remember that creating a passionate and remarkable customer experience begins with truly passionate and remarkable employees and working culture.

12

At Connection Cafe: Don’t Take Your Staff’s Engagement For Granted

Today I published my first post for the Connection Cafe, Convio’s company blog. I’m hoping it gets some energetic and passionate comments so head over there and start a dialogue.

Connection Cafe is largely written to the nonprofit audience, but if you’re from the corporate world don’t let that scare you off. I’ll be dealing with the same themes there as I do here with Bailey WorkPlay…but more pointed to the NPO crowd.

Here’s a snippet:

But then, I would follow this with something usually less obvious: without an engaged staff, there would be no members wanting to bring their dues, participation, and energetic passion. Too often, professional associations and non-profits expend so much of their focus on what lies outside, they can overlook the very people who make things happen inside every single day (don’t worry, for-profits are not immune either). There’s a reason why many non-profits are not run solely by members or volunteers. It’s because the professional paid staff have the experience, skills, and talents to help members and volunteers achieve great organizational goals.

Go read the whole post…

0

Taking Care Of The People Who Matter Most

I’m always excited when a book on employee engagement comes into my field of vision. It just adds more validity to the principles and practice behind the work I do to help organizations design a remarkable work experience. A fairly recent book added to my library is Sybil Stershic’s Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most: A Guide to Employee-Customer Care. For the most part, it is a thoughtful and useful resource for any organizational manager or executive who wants to build a strong service-oriented culture from the inside-out.

If you’re at all on the fence about about employee engagement’s connection to customer service, here are a few quotes to consider:

Employees influence what customers think about your business and determine whether (or not) they’ll establish and maintain relationships with your company.

It should be no surprise that the way people treat each other within an organization impacts how they ultimately treat external customers…good internal service drives good external customer service.

What You’ll Love About This Book
It’s short and to the point.
The book is just over 100 pages and Sybil lays out exactly what’s inside in the first paragraph:

This is a book about the “care and feeding” of the people who are ultimately responsible for an organization’s success. It’s about internal marketing – a blended approach focused on taking care of employees so they can take care of customers. It is about marketing and human resources, and management, and creating a positive customer-focused culture.

It’s actionable.
Each chapter ends with an Action Plan Starter Notes section to help you take the information of the chapter and rework it into your organization’s unique situation. In the last chapter, Sybil offers worksheets where you can take these notes and put them together to form an Employee-Customer Care Internal Marketing Action Plan.

It’s measurable.
Currently, one of the toughest things to find are statistics to support the impact that employee engagement has on organizational health and customer service. Many executives continue to view some of the key principles of employee engagement like respect and recognition as soft values which is their polite (and misguided) way of invalidating them. Which is why her use of statistics in many cases vital when it comes to making the argument for focusing more on the employee relationship.

It’s not just for corporations.
In a couple of places, Sybil addresses non-profit organizations and offers some ideas to help non-profits relate for-profit terms to their situation. While there could be a little more emphasis in the book for the non-profit sector, I’m impressed that she actually includes it in her thinking…most thinkers and writers in this space focus entirely on the corporate world.

I’d like to invite Sybil to share her thoughts and answers to your questions about how to create a great employee-customer care program. To kick it off, here are a couple of questions:

  • If employee-customer care is such a powerful concept (and in many ways a no-brainer), why don’t more organizations realize this and focus more resources on it?
  • In what ways can non-profits, particularly professional associations, build staff-member/constituent care programs? Are there any parallels from the for-profit sector that non-profit executives should include? Any differences to watch for?

I’m the third stop on the virtual book tour for Taking Care of the People Who Matter Most. The stops include:
June 1st, Kevin Burns posted a review at Burns Blogs Attitude.
June 3rd, Lisa Rosendahl posted a review at HR Thoughts.
June 4th, You Are Here
June 5th, Toby Bloomberg at Diva Marketing will be posting an interview with Sybil.
June 6th, Becky Carroll at Customers Rock! will be posting a review and interview with Sybil.
June 9th, Paul Hebert will be posting a review on the blog Incentive Intelligence.
June 10th, Phil Gerbyshak will be posting an interview on the blog Slacker Manager.

Check in with these stops throughout the next couple of weeks. More information about this new book is available on the WME Books blog, the book page on the WME online store and at the Quality Service Marketing blog. If you’re interested in buying this book, go directly to the WME online store and enter this discount code – 107VBT – to receive 20% off your purchase.

17

Would You Consider A Customer Care Strategy With Twitter?

One of my new Twitter follows Chris Rash posted a tweet this morning as a question: Twitter for customer service? Now if you’re not familiar with Twitter you might have read that as “twits in customer service” and thought that’s nothing new. This pervasive public attitude (which isn’t going away) is precisely why companies need to think differently about how they care for their customers. Want to know how to gain a critical advantage on your competitors? Look no further than your probably beleaguered but infinitely valuable customer service team.

Now, whether you like Twitter and other social media tools or not, you have to acknowledge their massive appeal and increasing usage by folks. It’s time to face the facts that social media is no longer the exclusive tool of the techno-savvy. Along with blogging, Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook are now used by a wider audience at all age levels (do a search for grandmothers on Facebook…you might be surprised at what you find). So get off the fence and put on your brainstorming cap – remember to make some for the rest of your team – because it’s time start getting creative in how you maximize these tools to help build stronger business relationships.

If you’re still on the fence and not sure about the value of social media to your services business, here are some thoughts to ponder…

Go where your customers are…don’t expect them to always come to you.
The traditional forms of customer service will never really go away so don’t ditch the phone number and email address. Being accessible and responsive is always going to be the hip and right thing to do. But the rules for gaining and retaining customers are definitely changing. It’s now easier than ever to tell the world about the crappy service you just received or the shoddily-made product that falls apart when you look at it funny. It’s equally easy to tell the world about the wonderful care you just received from a restaurant or how damn reliable and fun to drive your new Honda truck is (yep, that’s my little endorsement for the Ridgeline).

Embrace the personal relationship…just don’t over-construct it.
Too many times, managers like to outwit themselves with all kinds of complicated plans and strategies for how to tap into the next great technology tool. In the process, they tend to focus way more on the tool than the purpose of using that tool…in this case it ought to be to build a better, deeper, more personal relationship with the customer. Going back to the article that Chris tweeted, the decision for Comcast to care and build relationships using Twitter wasn’t a formal decree from the CEO, but an intuitive hunch and nudge from a company executive. (And if there’s a company that needs some positive customer service stories, it’s Comcast.)

And for heaven’s sake…be authentic!
If you decide to use social media, don’t think for a moment you can get away with being phony, disingenuous, or insensitive. The foundation of social media is built on trust and if you betray that trust you might as well hang it up and go back to your old ways of customer service. Remember that you’re doing this as a way to not only build the kind of relationships that retain business, but the kind of relationships that take people from casual customer to raving fans. And it’s raving fans that will hop onto Twitter and tell their networks how fantastic you are.

2

Mistakes Happen…

…it’s how we deal with mistakes that count. The universe must want me to learn something important because within 30 hours, two distinct situations occurred to illustrate this point. In one instance, I was on the mistake-maker side and in the second instance I was on the receiving end of someone else’s mistake. And in both cases, I’m not at all sure that I handled the mistakes well. Here’s another installment of my not-so-newly created series called I Screw Up So You Don’t Have To.

Mistake #1: Chris as Mistake-Maker
I’m working with a client on several different projects, each one different in its complexity, scale, and timeframe. It’s a client that I like and enjoy working with. And I feel that we have a good working relationship. We first discussed these projects back in November and I worked on them up through December. Then I took a two week holiday retreat and promptly neglected this client’s work when I returned. It wasn’t intentional and the work wasn’t entirely forgotten – it just took a back seat to other work that felt more pressing these past few weeks.

You’re probably thinking it’s not too surprising that I received rather curt and angry voicemail and email messages on Friday asking for an immediate update. My apology was met with, “That does me no good. What are you going to do? I expect a full accounting by Tuesday.” Now, I have a client who undoubtedly feels pissed and betrayed…and truly for good reason.

Mistake #2: Chris as Mistake-Receiver

The next day, I took the family to one of our favorite local pizza joints for dinner. We ordered a small cheese pizza for the girls and a medium meateaters for Carrie and me. Around 15 minutes later, our server showed up with the meateaters, but no cheese. We all thought that maybe he’d be right back to bring the cheese pizza. A couple of minutes passed and it becomes clear that a cheese pizza is not coming. So I visited the register and asked about the cheese pizza. I got blank, confused looks in return. There was no cheese pizza. Now, I’m starting to get pissed and insisted that they need to get moving on making the pizza that I paid for. Then, one of the folks from behind the counter came and asked me again whether I paid for a pizza and asked me to confirm the size, crust, toppings, political affiliation, next-of-kin, etc. He said, “We’re just trying to track down this order.” Okay, now I’m definitely pissed. He’s here trying to track down an order rather than make the actual damn pizza. I make my second trip to the counter and discover that apparently the cheese pizza was not included in the original order (but it should have been because the gal taking the order asked me what type of crust we wanted). The kick in the pants was the fact they still charged me $2.64 even though I argued that I should not be charged at all.

Roughly 13 minutes later, the gal who took our original order brought the pizza and apologized. She said, “I didn’t do it on purpose.” The thing was that she was right. She didn’t intentionally screw up and I told her so.

So, what’s the learning here?

Learning #1: Be more forgiving of mistakes. Rarely does someone screw up on purpose…that would be blatant and willful sabotage. Yeah, sometimes screw ups are due to incompetence or lack of care on the part of another person. But more often than not, mistakes are made for more innocent reasons. I guess at the root of how we view mistakes is whether we believe people are good or bad. And what I need to remember is that perfection is bullshit and I’m immensely capable of screwing things up at a moment’s notice. It’s the whole glass house thing.

Learning #2: Accept the mistake and move forward. Coming back to my intro, mistakes happen and it’s what we do after the mistake that matters most. If we screw up yet blow it off, then we’ve compounded the mistake by not taking ownership and figuring out how to make things right. Imagine my reaction if the pizza folks had – rather than try to make it into my problem – quickly said they would bring us a free cheese pizza and some breadsticks for the girls while they waited. For my client, I now have the job of determining what her “breadsticks” are.

Learning #3: Be more emotionally-aware. Being on the mistake-maker side, I understand my client’s emotions. She’s angry and frustrated because I’ve put her in a bad spot with her executives and board members. However, there’s a part of me that’s a bit embarrassed by my behavior as a mistake-receiver. There are times when I allow my emotions to get the better of me and raise more hell than I should to get what I want. Even those of us who coach and advise others on how to best navigate professional relationships are challenged to heed our own words. See learning #1 above.

Learning #4: Keep the focus on learning. This post is my example of learning from mistakes. It’s my way of reflecting on what I can do better in the future. Mistakes aren’t bad…they’re essential if we choose to grow. If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough. So, let’s keep learning.

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