Better Than Perfect: How to Correct Business Mistakes


Steve Kiernan
Co-Founder & CEO
May 9, 2018
minutes to read

The 3 Tips Take Action:

  1. Don’t Hide - Mistakes happen. Don’t try to hide them, rather, engage with the customer to help improve an unfortunate situation.
  2. Show Empathy - Whether your company made a mistake, or the customer misunderstood what the service entailed, reflect on how the customer is feeling. Make sure to respond in a supportive and empathetic way.
  3. Make it Right - You’re not going to get better by focusing on all the mistakes. Focus on the solution, make plans to avoid similar mistakes in the future, then keep being awesome!

Not every business is perfect.

At some point in recent history, private companies started playing from a defensive position. In other words, they’re waiting for customers to complain and have developed plans to address those complaints. In some cases, they’ve developed plans that attempt to eradicate negative reviews. Based on nearly 20 years of running service businesses, the idea that we’d present ourselves without flaw is both terrifying and worse, it’s a lie (since “we lie to our customers” is not written anywhere on your marketing material, don’t do it).

The fact of the matter is companies are still run by people just like you and me. If there’s one absolute certainty in our lives it’s that we will, whether real or manufactured by a customer, make a mistake at some point. Our philosophy has always been to own those mistakes, to be human, and always be exceptional about engagement and follow through when mistakes happen. Our belief is simple. Making mistakes doesn’t separate you from anyone else because everyone makes them. Responding to your mistakes is what stratifies people and companies as poor, average, and great!

After spending the last 10 years writing field service software for home services contractors, we launched Pointman to help small contractors manage their business more effectively. Part of that journey included joining PHCC & QSC, organizations that are committed to creating higher standards of excellence for contractors in the plumbing, heating, and cooling trades. At a recent national meeting we met Loren Webster, Owner & Master Plumber at One Call Plumbing who shared a customer story that really resonated with us. A customer of One Call’s had left a negative online review complaining about the price for their service. Loren responded to the review with empathy and offered to give that customer a full refund, and here's where the real magic started. Not long after that experience, new customers called on One Call and specifically identified Loren's response to the negative review as their reason for giving him their business. They weren't looking for a refund or a freebie. They were looking for someone who would treat them the right way, with respect and empathy.

Hiding the imperfections of your business and solely presenting amazing, world-class, superstar experiences may work to attract some customers, but not all. There's nothing wrong with being human, and how you conduct your business during a difficult situation will stay with you. It will define, in part, the brand you're pouring your heart and soul into. It will provide you an opportunity to separate your business from others who dismiss negative interactions as a customer's fault or issue. Think of a time when you were the customer and someone dropped a ball on you. Did that business act as if they were perfect or did they own the issue and make it right? How'd that make you feel?

Turns out, we're a lot like our customers. Don't lie about who you are. When you screw up, be human, use empathy, make it right, and take the opportunity to show your true colors. Often, those experiences will keep your phone ringing!

Look at Pricing

The start of the year is a great time to look at pricing. Usually, you have an idea of how your company fared the year prior, and you want to ensure you will continue to grow in the months to come. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions with respect to spending or saving in our personal lives, and it’s no different for business owners. Making sure your pricing is in line with where it should be is one of the strongest ways to start the year the right way.

Part of looking at your price book is finding where the issues are, and that can take time. An HVAC company in January is going to be very busy, so it’s a difficult time for a close look. However, a plumbing company might not be as busy. Whenever you tackle this job, your best bet is to look at what your labor rates are. Start there, and let it trickle down across the board. Ask yourself, “Are my labor rates helping my business stay profitable?”

Remember, there are many different services out there and many different groups or communities that you can engage. Never hesitate to say, “Hey, I’m a business owner in Florida. What should my labor rates be?” You can build your price from there. There are also some great billable hour calculators available.

Set Goals

There is no better time of year for looking inward than January. Set your personal goals and company goals for the following 12 months. If you can break those down into departmental goals, even better! Perhaps that means a CSR booking closing rates a little better, or a truck doing 250,000 a year rather than 200,000.

Many companies have found that using an Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) goal-setting system pays off. Looking for a guidebook when it comes to OKRs? Check out Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr. 

One key question is the best way to handle setting goals: Is it smarter for business owners to handle this solo, together with staff, or to delegate completely? 

The best approach is to set goals at the department level. As an owner, you need to take the time to understand what the goals are in each department, and make sure they are in line with your goals for the company. No one likes to set unattainable goals for themselves, so make sure you push your departments to set goals that are lofty, rather than simple ones to feel good about hitting. Entrust your staff to aim higher, and watch how they respond.

Pass Along these Points

There's more where that came from.