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What to do when something goes wrong…at something will go wrong

What to do when something goes wrong...No matter how hard you try, or how perfect your systems are, something is bound to go wrong at some point in time during your entrepreneurial journey.  Let me give you a few examples of what has gone wrong for us…

  • We have accidentally done something to make a customer mad
  • We made a bad hire that turned out to be horrible for our business
  • We have had weather so bad we can’t open because neither staff nor customers could get there

All of the above are things we have been through in the last few years and we have some advice on how to deal with a bad situation.

Don’t Ignore it.

That may sound ultra simple, but at times it can be the hardest thing in the world to do.  None of us want to call that upset client.  “Maybe if I just let it go she’ll go away.  It sounds like we have already lost her as a client anyway…” you may think to yourself, but don’t let it go.  The worst that happens when you deal with a bad situation is that it doesn’t immediately get any better.  But if you don’t do anything about it, you can be sure it will get way worse.  And if we are talking about a customer situation then you may have a real problem on your hands down the road.  What happens if that situation pops up on social media and you haven’t responded until that happens?  You don’t have a leg to stand on because you didn’t do anything about it when it was an offline conversation.  Now it just looks like you are only interested because it could hurt your business, not because you truly care about the client.  Always act sooner rather than later when something comes up.

I was speaking with an owner of another small business not long ago who was telling me that he wasn’t meeting the expectations of his business plan.  He was clearly disturbed by the situation and was asking for help.  When I asked how much he was off by he didn’t have answer.  When I asked what his new forecast looked like and when he would be at a monthly cash flow breakeven he told me that he hadn’t done a new forecast.  He admitted that he was too scared to look that deeply at the numbers because things weren’t going well.  How do you think he was going to get things turned around if he didn’t know where he was or where he was going?  While it may be scary to look at a problem head on and embrace it with open arms to figure out how to fix it, ignoring it isn’t going to ever fix anything.

Be Proactive.

If you see something is wrong before anyone else does, act on it.  Follow rule #1 above.  Hoping it won’t turn into something bigger is a bad way to play it.  As opposed to the situation we were just talking about, you know have demonstrated that you care about the client/staff because you are taking action before they have even realized it is an actual problem.  I sent an email just today to a client we accidentally messed up her account and we caught it before she did.  I let her know there was a problem but we had already fixed it and I was sorry if it caused her any problems.  I got a response that she was very appreciative that we realized the problem and took care of it.  We may have made a mistake, but because of the way we handled it we actually impressed a customer.

Take Responsibility.

This one is easy if you created the problem.  It can be a whole lot harder if you really didn’t have anything to do with it.  However, if you are the owner/operator you have to take responsibility for everything.  So even if the problem was caused by a mistake an employee made you have to take responsibility for hiring and training that employee-even if you didn’t do those tasks yourself.  There can be a real desire to kick the can down the line and point the finger at someone else, but I can assure that will never get you anywhere.

I have a couple of examples of this one…

When one of our employees makes a mistake that causes an issue I always use the word “we” when talking about the mistake made.  The customer doesn’t care about your org chart and who fits where in it. They just want to know that you, the person in front of them at the moment, cares about their issue and are willing to fix it.  Taking this stance with a customer will also show your employees that you stand together, not that the mistake is acceptable, but that you aren’t going to sell them down the river when you a chance.

At our massage studio the only thing we have to sell is time on the table, so when a therapist has an emergency or illness, we end up having to talk to a lot of people that aren’t going to get the session they expected…clearly not fun phone conversations.  It is important that the client knows we are acknowledging that there is a problem.  To go along with the first rule-don’t ignore it-you won’t get very far acting like something isn’t a problem when it clearly is.  Address it for what it is and offer solutions-in our case it may be another comparable therapist or an appointment at another time with a complimentary upgrade but always with a sincere acknowledgement of the problem.

Be Genuine in your Concern.

If you don’t care, don’t call.  Understand what that could mean if you ignore a problem.  But if you are only going to give lip service to a problem have someone else deal with it or don’t touch it at all.  However, I think for most of us it is pretty easy to be genuine in your concern.  After all, this is your business and you should take it personally.  You don’t have to be happy about the situation.  If something has gone wrong you probably aren’t happy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t genuinely care about finding a solution to that problem.

Remember, you don’t get to decide how bad something is to someone else.

Do your best to empathize with the person on the receiving end of the problem.  It may not seem like a big idea to you, but that isn’t your choice.  We have all had those days when your order gets messed up at Starbucks and you feel like the whole world just collapsed around you.  You ordered one of 2,000 cups of coffee they made that day, if you get 1,999 of every 2,000 right then you are doing pretty good at anything you are doing.  But to you it was the only cup of coffee you ordered that day.  That means they messed up 100% of your orders!  And that is why Starbucks gets it, because without questions they will fix it and apologize (even if the reason your order is wrong is because you were on the phone when you ordered and you probably did leave out the “double shot” part…).  Let the customer tell you how bad the problem is before you begin to offer solutions.

Don’t make snap or rash decisions when you are cleaning up a mess.

I have always liked the idea of responding instead of reacting.  This is never more true than in a stressful situation when you are dealing with a problem.  It is okay to go into a situation with an idea of what you would like to do to remedy it, but be sure to listen to what the other party is telling you before you make any decisions.  It is amazing how many times people just want to be heard and offering them a “free upgrade on their next service” can actually make things worse if they don’t feel like you listened to their problem and empathize with how they are feeling.

It sucks, but bad stuff happens and if you are the owner it all eventually flows your way.  If you have done a good job of putting the right people in place you may not have to deal with much of the day to day problems, but the big ones will always be yours and its best to have a plan on how you are going to deal with them when they arise.

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