Sometimes things go wrong. Quite simply stuff happens. And in the worst cases this has a direct impact on your customers. They’re not happy, they get upset, they complain. If you’re in customer service you know how this works. To make matters worse often a host of other peripheral things go wrong at the same time – such as promises are broken.

“I was told that someone would definitely call me on Tuesday.”

“On your website, it quite clearly says that ………..”

“I tried contacting you by phone / e-mail but the system wouldn’t let me ……….”

While it may seem counter-intuitive to admit weaknesses or failings, to hold your hands up and admit you screwed up is often a powerful thing to do. It frequently takes the heat out of the situation. It’s difficult for someone to give you a hard time if you’ve just admitted that you or your company has got it wrong on this occasion.


However make sure you keep it contained. Handle it professionally and with strong focus otherwise your attempt at keeping control of the situation may unravel. So …..

  • Have a solution ready, alongside your apology – Admitting you’ve fouled up isn’t effective if you don’t have a plan to sort it out.
  • Ensure you’re clear on what went wrong. You don’t necessarily want to go into great detail with the customer, but they are looking for the reassurance that you know what you’re doing, that you’re in command of the situation.
  • Don’t blame others – such as colleagues. Even if they have fouled up, all the customer sees is that you, ‘the company’ has got it wrong.
  • Use positive and definite language. The customer will be looking for reassurance, so talk in positive terms about actions that will be taken.
  • Don’t make rash promises – the easiest thing sometimes, particularly when you’re under pressure is to make big promises, perhaps that “it’ll never happen again.” Chances are it will, and if it does, it’s likely to be that customer who is affected. They will remember, and they will use it against you.

Customers appreciate honesty. They respect you for it. All customers (well, most then) are human beings and know that things go wrong from time-to-time. What they’re really interested in is what you’re going to do about it.

Getting it hideously wrong – it happened to me

Back in 2009 it happened. Just when I thought they would lay into me, complain and shout, actually I was astonished that they did the complete opposite.

My monthly eflyer was going from a server in America. However during the process of sending the server got stuck in a loop. It sent the same e-mailer to the same 2,000 contacts every minute for an hour and a quarter. You can understand recipients weren’t happy. Clicking unsubscribe of course didn’t help.

I’d bombarded them. This was an example of terrible customer service. And given that my business is built on helping companies deliver better customer service and to sell more, this was a disaster. 10 years of goodwill thrown away at a stroke.

I cobbled together a ‘damage limitation’ exercise over night and started work promptly the next morning. This involved getting on the phone, and simultaneously I launched an individual e-mail campaign to all those who’d complained. By now, many hours had passed, 18 hours +, and people calmed down. Many e-mailed back and said “don’t worry about it”, “no harm done”, “technology does this” etc.

They clearly appreciated the apology and I think the courage for stepping into the lion’s den. I learnt a valuable lesson, and part of this was a fantastic, positive message about human beings. How reasonable, understanding and positive they could be. Not what I was expecting at all.

After 2 days of intense customer contact, by phone and e-mail, I had 3 new sales leads. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you want things to go wrong in this fashion, but it’s an interesting point isn’t it?

Invest in your team and equip them with the skills to be handle any customer complaint. Be honest too with them, but bear in mind the ticklist above to ensure you’re doing it in a structured, positive way.

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OP 21-10-16