Dealing with failure

I consider myself to be very lucky as I love what I do. Sometimes it gets a little frustrating when everything happens at once and there is just not enough bodies to throw at the problems but on the whole I *really* love what I do and the people that I work with. What I don’t love is when we fail to deliver and let someone down, this happened on Friday.

What happened is that on Friday a client called in to the office and logged a call just after 9.30am to say that their network was down and they needed a call back urgently. I was on holiday at the time but I did see the message come in. As there are systems in place to deal with these things I resisted the urge to jump on the problem and call the client. However I couldn’t resist the urge to log on to the clients server and check things over, I did and all was well again. So I left it to the guys to deal with the ‘personal’ side of the support call.

Then just after 12 noon another message was passed through to say that the client had called in again and was extremely upset that, while the problem was resolved, he had not received a call back from anyone to assist with the issue and wanted to discuss the support service as soon as I was back in the office next week. This is the type of call that every service provider, IT or otherwise, dreads getting from any of their clients. After checking in to the issue we found that the call had gone into an ‘unassigned queue’ in the ticketing system and had just been missed. The system which I created had failed which resulted in this situation and the bottom line is..’We screwed up’.

Now, despite the fact that the client had asked for a call next week when I was back at the office I called him immediately. The first thing that he said was ‘you’re on holiday right?’ to which I answered ‘yes’, he responded by saying ‘well you shouldn’t be talking to me if you’re on holiday’. I went on to tell him that I should be talking to him as this situation is not only important to me but I take them very seriously. The first thing I did was apologise for letting him and his business down, we had not delivered when he needed us most. I went on to explain to the client what had happened which resulted in the lack of call back from our office. I then explained what had been put in place to prevent this from happening again. The call ended with the client while unhappy about the situation in the first place, he also appreciated the fact that I had admitted that we had made a mistake and that processes had been put in place to prevent this in future.

In any customer service situation where they client has a genuine complaint that is quite obviously ‘your’ fault (you or your business) the single worst thing that you can do is to say that it is not your fault,  ‘pass the buck’ or in some way not accept responsibility. In this situation I told the client that it was totally my fault and explained what had been done to prevent this in future. Now I was on holiday at the time so ‘technically’ it wasn’t my fault but the fact is that when you are in a position of authority/responsibility you must accept responsibility for the actions of those that you entrust to undertake work for you or on you behalf, this may be a member of your team or a contractor; regardless they are still your responsibility. This simple act of acceptance of responsibility instantly creates 2 feelings within a person. The first is relief; the reason for this is whenever we complain we instantly get ready for a fight, no-one wants to have a fight but we get ready. The fact that he didn’t have a fight on his hands was an immediate relief and took the ‘wind out of his sails’. The second was that the partnership was right; this probably seems like an odd one but when you work with any service provider you want to feel its a partnership and feel comfortable that when you ask them to do something it will get done without badgering them. Likewise when they screw up and you are forced to complain then you also need to feel reassured that it will be dealt with efficiently and to your satisfaction saving you the frustration of keep having to shout. By dealing with this complaint in this way the whole situation what completely defused and we were able to discuss the problems rationally and allow the client to explain to me where we had let him down. That way I was able to make sure that we will deliver next time and more importantly make sure he is not put in that position again. A very good friend of mine once told me “You’re only as good as your last job”, never a truer word has been spoken.

This is something that I feel passionately about as on a personal level I have a lot of dealings with the NHS for our child and the people we deal with do not follow any of the standard guidelines above on dealing with complaints. This creates a great deal of frustrations when dealing with them so I would never want to put any one of my clients in this situation.

I understand that accepting complete responsibility in the first instance may not always be the right thing, if for example it may lead to legal proceedings. As a general rule I believe this is the right way to deal with clients as this is how I would like to be dealt with.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter and how you deal with failure. I do not believe that my way is right but I know what works well for me.

– Rob

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