Every business makes mistakes. It is how the business responds to those mistakes that matters.
Last weekend, I decided to try a new pizza restaurant that had been open for just a few months.
We ordered two pizzas for pickup — a pepperoni and a vegetarian.
When we went to pick them up, the kitchen had accidentally cooked just one pizza with both vegetables and pepperoni on it. It was unfortunate, but accidents happen.
But like Watergate, it’s what happens following the original screw-up that matters.
The staff provided a half-hearted apology and we had to go kill time for 15-20 minutes while they cooked up a new pizza.
Once we got our two pizzas home, it turned out the vegetarian pizza still had pepperoni on it. Strike two.
We weren’t happy about it, but it was getting late, so we just removed the pepperoni and ate the pizza as-is.
How Not To React to an Upset Customer
After dinner, I called the restaurant and asked to speak with the manager. I explained what had happened. I figured I was doing them a favor, as it was a new restaurant and needs to know where to improve.
Amazingly, the manager told me it couldn’t have happened as I described because she had shown us the pizza in the box before we left the restaurant.
I told her I don’t know why we hadn’t noticed the pepperoni on the pizza while in the store – perhaps because the pepperoni was covered by vegetables – but it didn’t matter.
Furthermore, she said it was their policy that if someone has a problem with a pizza, they have to call and return the pizza or have a delivery person pick it up, and they will replace it.
So in other words, even though our dinner was already 1/2 hour later because of their mistake, the restaurant wanted us to wait even longer for them to bake a third pizza, then wait another 30 minutes for a delivery driver to drive it out to our house.
The final straw that broke the camel’s back was she abruptly said she had to put me on hold to get another call and before I could respond, she placed me on hold. Needless to say, I did not stick around.
How to Go From an Initial Mistake to a Customer for Life
Now imagine how she could have handled my call.
She could have used it as an opportunity to give me a free pizza the next time I come in (something that costs them very little), virtually guaranteeing I would come back. And I probably would have bought a second pizza to go with the freebie.
Instead of clinging to a “policy,” she could have apologized profusely, blamed the mistake on a new restaurant still working out its kinks, and promised she would make sure it wouldn’t happen again.
Imagine if she had made me feel worthy and validated and listened to.
Any of these options would have made me happy.
Instead, she violated the restaurant version of the hippocratic oath — don’t make the situation worse. Don’t piss the customer off further.
In my experience, sometimes a new business’s initial mistake can turn me into a customer for life because their reaction and attempts to rectify the mistake are so kind, thoughtful, and considerate. Not so here.
Freebies Are Worth Their Weight in Gold
It has been said that it is eight times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep a current one.
That is why it is far less expensive to simply comp a “freebie” when a customer complains than it is to risk alienating an existing customer who has already made the choice to walk in the door.
It is far too easy today for an angry customer to write a negative review on Yelp, as I did later that night.
So remember… will you let your next mistake be your downfall? Or an opportunity?
Have you every turned a business mistake into opportunity? Or have you ever experienced a business that made a mistake with you and handled it really well, or really poorly? Let us know below.
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