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In the age of social media, it’s nearly impossible to screw up in private. Every day the news is full of stories of people — and companies — making seriously bad decisions. In many cases there’s even video evidence of the blunders.
Perhaps the only benefit of today’s intense public scrutiny is that we have plenty of opportunities to learn from other people’s mistakes. As Groucho Marx once said, “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can never live long enough to make them all yourself.”
In business, this can be an important lesson. Just as you might want to emulate the successful approach of another company, you should also be taking note of the gaffs and obstacles that can trip you up along the way. This philosophy is especially important when it comes to facing tough customer service situations. These days, any slip up can be exponentially magnified by not immediately and, at times, publicly taking ownership of the error. It’s a mistake to assume that a customer service problem will just go away quietly.
Of course, broadcasting one’s mistakes doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But consumers respond to honesty — clients are not looking for a perfect travel agent; they are looking for someone they can trust to do the right thing even when there are unforeseen problems.
For many of us, it’s shocking to see huge corporations fail to grasp this lesson.
In most cases, public embarrassments are the result of a legacy of old customer service ideas and a failure to adapt to a new environment where every interaction is potentially public. It’s a good idea to examine your conflict-resolution process now — making sure everyone in your organization is on the same page — before it becomes an issue. Otherwise, one person’s instinct could derail your response and harm your agency’s reputation.
Ultimately, mistakes are a fact of life for any business. But not learning from those mistakes and not using them to improve is the real failure.