How to Recover from a Costly Mistake

In hindsight, I don’t know how I missed it. Has that ever happened to you? A big problem was right in front of your face, but you didn’t see it? It’s embarrassing, even devastating, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recover from a costly mistake. In the hopes that others can learn from my failure, I am going to share my embarrassing, business damaging over sight.

The forms on my website broke. All of them. They weren’t broken for a few days, or a few weeks, or even a month. They were broken for several months. To be specific, the notifications weren’t working. And I didn’t notice. I did notice that the steady stream of inquiries that had been coming in through our website had dried up. It niggled at me. I wondered what had happened, or what I needed to do differently. But for some unfathomable reason, it never occurred to me that the issue could be technical.

When I realized what had happened, I was distressed. But when I went into the back end of my website, and found almost 30 inquiries that I had never responded to, I felt shock and despair. In many cases, these were business owners who had reached out to us for help, and I felt horrible that we had essentially ignored them. Not only could this be damaging to our brand and reputation, but these businesses were not getting the help that they needed. I hoped that at least some of them had found support elsewhere.

My initial reaction was to ask “how did this happen and who is to blame?” But those thoughts are unproductive, and I very quickly decided not to go there. Regardless of why the forms stopped working, I realized that the only productive way to move forward was to take responsibility for the situation. The buck stops here.

Before I addressed how to prevent this from happening again, I needed to address how to make it right with the people who had written to us and not gotten a response. I spent two days personally writing to each person who had submitted an inquiry. I apologized profusely, and offered them a free coaching session.

It was at that point that the silver lining began to appear. Not everyone responded, but those that did were very nice and forgiving about the situation. They said things that made me smile, feel better, and even laugh. And I was also able to see that even though I have a technology problem (which hasn’t been fully resolved yet), the good news is that our inquiries have not dried up at all, and we do not have a marketing or client attraction problem.

Almost half of those that I reached out to have so far taken us up on our complimentary coaching session. What I have learned is that how you handle a mistake is just as important as the mistake itself. People will forgive you and your company if they believe you are sincere and authentic in your desire to take responsibility and make the situation right.

My next step is to address the “system failure.” Not just the technology piece, but the human piece. The fact that I was so busy that I didn’t have time to focus on our lack of web inquiries tells me that my systems and routines are not good enough. From now on, I am going to institute a new system of checking all of our technology and business systems on a consistent basis, whether I think it’s working or not. It took a mistake to highlight that for me, but I am finding that the impact of that mistake could have been much worse than it was.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, remember to focus on how you can salvage the situation first, then look for the silver lining and the lessons that will make you a better, stronger company in the future. While it is tempting to dwell on the “disaster” it is much more productive to focus on how you can bounce back from it.

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Donna Leyens Pumpkin Plan your BizWritten by:

Donna Leyens

11 replies
  1. Donna Leyens
    Donna Leyens says:

    I would love to know if any of you have made a mistake and turned it around to come out even better than you were?

    • Tommy Stern
      Tommy Stern says:

      I hired someone to do SEO and turned it into a mess, where I couldn’t trust anyone. Only now getting to a higher level by learning SEO on my own.

      The interesting part is, the person I hired offended the Internet G-d, Google.:-) I learned by doing the right thing, Google started to forgive me.

      • Donna Leyens
        Donna Leyens says:

        Thanks for sharing that, Tommy! And by learning it on your own, it will probably help you better evaluate who to hire when you’re ready to outsource again. :-)

  2. Edwin Soler
    Edwin Soler says:

    Hi Donna,

    I did see that email and I want to apologize for not responding. I was not one bit angry at all. A lot of things fell in place from the time I sent the inquiry and now. I know what I need to do now and in the near future. Beyond that though I’ll need some direction. But what I really want to say is that I am very proud of how you handled the situation. Yes, as you stated you are human (we all are). Your thoughts raced to a lot of places. But you took action, you faced the problem and the most important thing is that you also became the solution. You took action! And that is a lot more than I can say for many other people that run businesses.

    I was speaking to a very good business friend the other night. We were both involved in a marketing group together. I had since left so I could focus on my family more. The sad thing is that many of those “gurus” and “super successful” service businesses don’t practice what they preach. They say so many things about follow up and relationship building but do nothing to support their words. They taught a lot but showed little. I have yet to see anything from them regarding them wanting my business back.
    Yet the people that are easiest to do more business with are those that have already done business with you to begin with. Another thing you rarely see in business people is being vulnerable.

    So believe me, being vulnerable in your email that you sent earlier and blog post here put’s you in the top 95% of all businesses. The rest not only do not respond, they simple seem to not care either. So a lesson to all that read this, just responding to a problem/question alone will put you 95% ahead of everyone else. Don’t believe me? Try this: the next time you need any type of service, make a list of 10 companies and try to reach them in different ways (on line, phone, etc) and then see how many will respond. Thanks for your time Donna in letting me write this long post. And don’t worry, you are way further ahead in recovering from this mishap than you realize.

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Edwin, thank you SO MUCH for your words of support and encouragement. It really means so much to me that you took the time to write this here. And I am so glad that things have fallen into place for you since you submitted your inquiry. The most painful thing about this situation for me was the thought that people who had reached out to us for help, were not getting the support they needed. It makes me feel so much better to know that you are doing well! I hope that things continue to go well for you, and you know where to find us if you need us.

  3. Andrea Walker
    Andrea Walker says:

    Hi Donna,
    I love this blog post and greatly admire you for sharing it. As my business coach you have helped me through many of my entrepreneurial “growing pains.” You constantly remind me that I am not the only one making mistakes and challenge me to reframe each one. I should also note for those reading this comment that I’m making fewer mistakes with your expert guidance! True.

    So, while I am truly sorry that this happened to you I am also inspired and reassured by it. It takes a lot of willpower to de-personalize a problem, see the solution, and find the silver lining. It’s not easy AT. ALL. Mistakes happen – they are unavoidable. It’s how we respond that makes the difference. Thank you for sharing this experience and being such a great business coach and role model.

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Andrea, thank you so much for your support and for being such a great client. It’s knowing that people like you are paying attention that keeps me accountable to walking my talk! What kind of coach would I be if I said one thing to my clients, and did another myself? But it is humbling to experience what I consider to be such a catastrophic fail, and find support in so many unexpected places. I am truly grateful for the chance to know and hopefully help amazing people like you, as well as all of the amazing business owners out there who I haven’t yet met, but who are reading our blogs and benefiting from our experiences. Posting about this issue was definitely scary, but I don’t regret it for a minute!

  4. Donna Leyens
    Donna Leyens says:

    I want to say a huge Thank You to Anuradha Kowtha, Profit Maximizer and CEO of Manifest by Design. I have never met Anuradha, but I am looking forward to speaking with her soon. She wrote this truly amazing blog post about how we handled this issue, from her perspective as someone who submitted an inquiry to us and didn’t hear back for months. It is really worth reading for any business owner. It is a great reminder of how our actions impact others.

    • Anuradha Kowtha
      Anuradha Kowtha says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your transparency about how you are recovering from this mistake, Donna! I really appreciate you sharing my blog post about my experience. I was (am) truly impressed with the way it was handled and perhaps it has the possibility to build the know, like, trust even more. Well done and thanks again. Looking forward to chatting in a couple weeks.

  5. Dr. Sabrina Starling
    Dr. Sabrina Starling says:

    Donna Leyens, you make me proud to be a Provendus Strategist! When I got that email from you last week, I knew it was painful for you to see all those business owners out there who felt we had ignored them. I knew you would make it right, and I am so glad to be getting to talk to these owners who are giving us another chance. Grace and integrity…those are the words that come to mind when I think of you.

    • Donna Leyens
      Donna Leyens says:

      Thank you, Sabrina. That means the world to me. It’s one of my Immutable Laws – Always Act with Integrity.

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