Taking responsibility for mistakes

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I’ve talked about the need to take ownership and responsibility before, but it’s worth mentioning again.  I recently received an email from a newsletter provider admitting to a problem.

…I owe you an apology. It’s very embarrassing: When your paid subscription expired, you *should* have then received the free […] Edition. In doing a major housekeeping of my files, I see that though an oversight on my part, you were part of a group of readers for whom that did not happen. Again, my sincere apologies.

Please let me correct that error now. You’ll start receiving the free […] Standard Edition newsletters with the next issue; next week. Of course, there’s no cost or obligation on your part.

I realize that, after all this time, this may not be what you want…

Personally, I think this is fabulous.  I don’t need the newsletter (if I did, I’d have done something about it when I missed it), but it was interesting and useful – and after this note I’m extremely receptive.

Compare this with an extract of a letter a colleague showed me a while ago from a UK bank:

 As [the previous letter] was sent on my behalf (hence the “PP” insignia by my name) I am unable to tell you exactly what the cause of the error is. […] It is important that when customers write [complaints letters] we react to them positively in order to improve customer service.  Yours sincerely […]

Both examples made mistakes.  Yet the responses have had dramatic effects on the relationships.  One has no reason or commitment to think too carefully about the customer – no money is changing hands.  Yet their honest and authentic apology and ownership of the mistake has increased their standing massively.

The other has dramatically reduced its own reputation, further compounding the mistakes the customer believed the bank had already made.