Great Mistakes

A few summers ago, I ordered some Italian food to-go but the young hostess working the takeout orders accidentally handed my dinner to the gentlemen in front of me. When I informed her of my order, she frantically rushed to the parking lot trying to avoid the error, but the gentlemen was already on his way home, blissfully unaware that my salads, gnocchi, and chicken cacciatore were his passengers.

Mistakes like these are a beautiful and unavoidable part of life. Humans are imperfect creatures and as long as we are involved in the flow of commerce, there will be oversights, accidents, and miscalculations. The goal for a business is to reduce the frequency of mistakes because total elimination is impossible.

Back inside Mary’s Pizza Shack, the hostess informed me they would rush my order between her multiple apologies. Having worked in a restaurant and not wanting to make her feel worse, I said, “Please, do not worry about it, I don’t mind waiting” and took a seat. Two minutes later, the manager came over, shook my hand, and apologized to me again. He asked if he could get me a beverage or breadsticks while I waited but I said, “No thanks, I’m fine. I understand this happens sometimes. I worked in a restaurant.” He smiled, thanked me for my understanding, and walked back to the kitchen. When he returned with my order, he handed me two $15 coupons (which was roughly equivalent to my entire order) and apologized a final time for making me wait. His concern and desire to resolve the issue was so genuine and sincere. I will not forget the mood I had walking out to my car. It was such a happy and positive feeling.

I felt valued, recognized, and cared for… all after they messed up my order.

Some people might call my experience just “good customer service”; what we expect from all businesses after a mistake. But my experience at Mary’s was more than that. I cannot remember another encounter where a company resolved a mistake with as much concern and attentiveness as the manager at Mary’s. I have had banks, clothing stores, eateries etc. resolve a conflict with the bare minimum, or little more. Many places would have just apologized and re-made my food. That is acceptable and common. But it is also a huge missed opportunity.

Mary’s used their mistake as an opportunity and they executed perfectly. These unavoidable little mistakes give businesses the opportunity to provide exceptional service, to give a customer a superior and differentiated experience, and to build brand loyalty and make a personal, positive connection.

So why don’t we get that more often? Why don’t most business make me feel the way I felt walking out of Mary’s that night? It is because businesses solve mistakes with a short-minded approach. They are concerned with limiting the financial costs of the mistake (additional time and/or loses in goods/services). They take shortcuts and do what is acceptable enough because it is cheaper, faster, and more efficient. Most business solve problems by making the situation “better” but they do not strive to make me feel great.

I think brands should consciously view mistakes as opportunities, as chances to make their customer feel recognized and valued. Opportunities to go above and beyond when resolving an error and live outside the box of normal customer service. Mistakes should not focus on financial costs, they should focus on connecting with the customer on personal and sincere levels.

Business takes place between people. There is someone on each side of every transaction, but it is getting easier to forget that, especially with multiple layers of technology. People will always make mistakes, they are unavoidable. And businesses/brands will always have choices with how they handle those mistakes. If you can be creative and use mistakes to connect with your customer, you will create loyalty. Long-term value is all about building loyalty and mistakes that build loyalty become “Great Mistakes.”

Great Mistakes are very, very valuable.


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