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.