We Screwed Up, How Can We Make It Right?


I wonder how often you hear an apology as clear and simple as “We screwed up, how can we make it right?”  From my experience not very often.

A Learning Experience

I had a wonderful experience of customer service recently that inspired me to write this blog post.  When I say wonderful, it wasn’t great and instead it provided a wonderful learning experience for all of us.  I was visiting a new brewery and decided to buy some bottles of beer from the menu to take home.  Everything was great until we found out the price on the menu was wrong.

When we pointed out the issue to our server, they went off to investigate and returned to inform us the menu price was incorrect.  We were correctly charged the higher price.  He was very nice about it, but it didn’t satisfy us.  He had the chance to apologize and make it right, but he didn’t.  When we asked to the see the manager we were told he would be in tomorrow morning.  I translated this as “It’s not very important to us, we charged you the right price and if it is that important to you, come back tomorrow”.

We Aren’t Bad People

He escalated our issue.  The next person came over and explained we only opened three days ago and several other prices are wrong as well.  I translated this as “We aren’t bad people, we aren’t trying to scam you.  We made lots of errors in our haste to open.”  You may notice, we still didn’t get a true apology and an offer to make it right.  What this person shared was all about how they felt and how they hadn’t intended to screw up.

Still unsatisfied, we asked if there was any other manager available.  The third person promptly showed up at our table and tried to resolve the issue.  They would reprint the menu tomorrow and were sorry the issue had occurred.  As you can guess this still didn’t provide what we were looking for.

We really like this brewery and for the sake of helping them improve their customer service, we explained what was missing in each conversation.  We didn’t need to understand why, be told our intention wasn’t to screw up, or for them explain we aren’t bad people who are trying to overcharge you.  All they needed to do was to acknowledge the mistake and ask us what would make it right.  “We screwed up, how can we make it right?”

Our issue was promptly taken care of and we were satisfied.  Had that have happened first time, we would have been very impressed and left with a positive experience to share with others (and not writing this blog).

An Example Done Right

In contrast, here is an example from the East Coast that shows how to really take care of customers.  ‘Sweetgreen’ is a salad oriented fast casual food chain.  They decided to stop accepting cash to speed up the checkout process.  Everything was working well until the day when the network went down and they couldn’t swipe people’s credit cards.  What do you do?  Ask people to give you their credit card numbers to charge later, ask them for cash, say we are temporarily closed, ask them to come back and pay later?

The person on the register decided to give away all the salads being purchased until the system came back up.  “We are sorry, our network is down, please take the salad for free.”  They screwed up and they made it right, instantly, no questions asked.  This simple act of care was widely reported; I heard about it in Portland and we don’t have Sweetgreen.  It probably generated thousand’s, maybe millions of positive impressions.  That sounds like a great return for simply doing the right thing to take care of your customer.

Going back to my original example, think of the positive impact if instead they had said, “we screwed up, the bottles are on us”.  The next time you screw up, look at it as an opportunity to demonstrate how much you care about your customer.  When I screw up next, I know what I am going to say…

Comments (2)

Great post Andy! My husband discuss the lack of customer service on a frequent basis & how easily the experience could have been improved. An apology or an alternative can go a long way. (I’ve contemplated providing customer service 101 classes. 🙂 )

Thank you Sherry. Your husband’s point illustrates how easy it is to stand out from the crowd and build a positive reputation!

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