The Business Mistake We Cannot Afford to Ignore

How perfect are you? Are you above error, mistakes and missteps? I am—and of course I am lying. Who is above the need for a little grace, both in and outside of the business setting?

In “Are You a Fallible Human Being?” John Mariotti puts that question on the table. In his article, Mariotti discusses the grace factor when it comes to celebrities and other high profile individuals.  All I have to say about that is, Humans are humans and grace is grace – until you do something that I really can’t tolerate. (Well, you know how we humans are: We have a lot of grace for our favorites and none for yours).

But Mariotti did make me think about the small business owner. What happens when we misstep with our customers? Whether it is the business owner personally, someone on the team or a broken system that caused the problem, how do we deal with it?

problem solution

With all the technology around us, business is still driven by humans. We are the soul behind the machine, and because we’re human, mistakes happen. In “How to Apologize to Customers and Have Them Love You More,” Ivana Taylor says, “It’s never a good thing when customers have a bad experience with your product or service. But instead of getting defensive, you can apologize, make it right, AND make them love you more in the process.”

Taylor lists six key steps you can take to repair the damage. I consider this priceless advice because mistreating our customers for any reason – even out of ignorance or by accident – is the business mistake that we cannot afford to ignore.

Naturally, we show grace more quickly to those who demonstrate sincerity, transparency and a willingness to improve the situation. Our customers are no different–if the faux pas is ours, then this same posture can take us a long way. Taylor breaks it down and makes it actionable.

While you are taking care of this type of customer, consider Yvonne DiVita’s advice in “How to Recognize and Reward Brand Advocacy.”  DiVita dishes out three quick suggestions to help you identify and care for these happiest of happy customers. These are the brand advocates who spread the word about their experience and love for your product. We don’t want to ignore them because they are powerful influencers (and fun too!). Their love for the product and the friends they share it with means more business for you.

As a matter of fact, if we take Taylor’s advice to heart and handle our mistakes with care, we can turn the wounded customer into a brand-happy client (maybe even an advocate). In How to Apologize, she also suggests that “Instead of thinking about how to defend the mistake, think about the ways that you can use the mistake to give your customers an unexpected surprise.”

Sometimes, we are the fallible ones — the ones that need the grace and a plan that helps our customers provide it.


Jamillah Warner Jamillah Warner (Ms.J), a poet with a passion for business, is a Georgia-based writer and speaker and the Marketing Coordinator at Nobuko Solutions. She also provides marketing and communication quick tips in her getCLEAR! MicroNewsletter.

12 Reactions
  1. Hi Jamillah – thanks for including me in this thoughtful article summary! I love how you’ve woven your thoughts with those of several articles – it’s gotten me thinking in all different directions. Thanks

  2. Thanks for the shout out in this post. I especially love this line (it is spot on!): (Well, you know how we humans are: We have a lot of grace for our favorites and none for yours).

  3. I’m a big fan of the sincere apology!! I think customers almost feel better when you admit you screwed up. Everyone is human and we all do it. Hootsuite apologized for the amazon server outage and provides credits to their premium subscribers. It wasn’t even their fault and it was completely out of their control. A great way to win the love of your customers, however.

  4. A little bit of humility goes a long way. It’s good for customers to see that we are not perfect and that when a problem happens, whether from a mistake we made or just a freak of chance, we should bend over backwards to make it up to them. It’s that extra effort that really solidifies customer relations.

  5. Thank for this post.

    I agree with Lisa Gerber; I too, am a big fan of the sincere apology.

    If more small business owners had the courage to just say, “we’re sorry,” they would have a lot less headaches!

    The Franchise King®

  6. Terje Sannarnes

    Great post, thanks. I would like to say that for every entrepreneur it is better to learn lessons from mistakes made by other business owners rather than make own business mistakes.

  7. It is funny how sometimes making a mistake will create stronger customer loyalty than your product or service being flawless. How a business handles a mistake separates good companies from poor ones.

  8. Another great article Jamillah! I probably retweet you more than any other author.

    I worked for a company whose customer philosophy was “tell them as little as possible. When problem arises use the most believable lie.”

    They never did make the correlation between their philosophy and the high number of contentious client meetings they had. Sad but true.

    Sincerity with clients will help them build confidence in you. Confidence in you builds client retention. Boy, I love how that works!

  9. Jamillah Warner

    You are right Terje, it is better to learn from other people’s mess ups and less painful!

    But if we can’t, don’t, won’t–them I’m with:

    1) Jerry, “How a business handles a mistake separates good companies from poor ones.” I would even say great ones.

    2) NIck, “A little bit of humility goes a long way.”

    3) and Lisa, that apology needs to be sincere or it causes more problems than it solves.

  10. Jamillah Warner

    Thanks Ivana and Yvonne, the shout out is natural–you guys are inspiring (and clear).

  11. Jamillah Warner

    Thanks Terry, (for the retweets too…:).

    Regarding that company with the “use the most believable lie” philosophy–that must have been painful, irritating to watch (and be connected to). The fact that being the best version of ourselves is actually good for business IS refreshing–No breach of character, no internal drama and no jacked up business.

    I agree, “sincerity with clients…builds confidence” and retention.