How Your Customer Service Can Be Made Mistake Proof

Successful organizations figure out how to make their customer service OOPS! resistant.

They’re mindlessly focused on how they handle mistakes. It’s all very well to talk about doing it right the first time and providing seamless transactions, but it’s a pipe dream.

The reality is that mistakes will always happen in organizations regardless of the good intentions to ensure they don’t happen. Mistakes cannot be mitigated. The chances of them occurring can be reduced but they can’t be completely eradicated.

Mistakes are a way of life in modern organizations. Humans are not perfect not are they predictable. Technology has its glitches. And systems break down.

So in a marketplace replete with mistake-making, how does an organization gain a competitive advantage over the other mistake-makers?

Do they try and make fewer of them in which case their competitive claim might be ‘Buy from us because we make fewer mistakes than our competitors’?

Or do they go back to the first principles of Quality Management and claim that they are the only ones who deliver what customers expect error-free every time?

No. The only way to gain an advantage in a mistake-riddled world is to pursue two tactics simultaneously:

  1. OOPS!-proof the organization as best you can to prevent mistakes from occurring, and
  2. Build a recovery strategy to action when #1 doesn’t work and an OOPS! occurs.


OOPS!-proofing your organization means creating the infrastructure and environment that reduces (not eliminates) the chances of mistakes occurring.

Here’s a checklist:

  • Examine your rule and policy architecture. Do the rules and policies you have enable easy customer transactions or do they get in the way because customers refuse to follow them (because they think they’re dumb).
  • Check your culture and values. What comes first: quarterly earnings or amazing experiences? Does your organization put the customer on a pedestal and subordinate everyone in it to creating memorable experiences for them?

Do you have a value that specifically says ‘We exist to provide memories for our customers every time they touch us’?

  • Ask customers to help design systems, processes and procedures that affect them. An OOPS! is less likely to happen if a customer is doing business with you in a way they helped architect.
  • Spend more money on training your frontline people. If they know more, they will fail less.
  • Remove the grunge that gets in the way of employees doing their job. Fighting unnecessary internal resistance gets in the way of focusing on taking care of the customer which causes sh** to happen.

OOPS! reaction

Even if you’ve OOPS!-proofed your organization as best you can to minimize the chances of mistakes happening, they will happen. That’s just the way it is.

So with that reality in mind, the OOPS!-proofer prepares themselves to recover when the mistake is in their face.

Their business plan has a specific strategy to be the best mistake fixer in the market, and there’s good rationale for taking this position.

Brilliant recovery is a customer loyalty builder; customers are more impressed with how the mistake is fixed than being upset about the mistake being made in the first place.

What does brilliant recovery look like? The ‘formula’ for OOPS! recovery is quite simple:

Recovery = Fix the mistake fast and surprise the OOPS! victim with something they don’t expect.

Studies have shown that customer positivity—and loyalty—towards an organization that has screwed them over actually increases after a successful recovery compared to how they felt toward the organization before the OOPS! happened (which is a function of the cumulative experiences they’ve had with the organization to date).

Furthermore, they show that recovery must be achieved within 24 hours of the OOPS! event to have a positive impact. If you haven’t recovered in 24 hours, the opportunity is lost and perhaps the customer with it.

The proper OOPS! recovery is a business loyalty builder and yet few organizations plan for it.

How does one build an OOPS! recovery plan?

Here are a few plan-building steps to consider:

#1.Work on your culture — Most cultures encourage mistake avoidance; mistakes result in added cost because of the rework involved in making things right.

The OOPS!-recovery artist knows that the special sauce is not trying to eliminate mistakes, it’s about having a strategy in place to do the right things for the customer when the blooper happens.

The serious ones have a value statement that goes something like this:
“We will do our best to prevent making a customer OOPS! but when we do, recovery will be our #1 priority.”

#2. Measure your recovery effectiveness — After recovery, ask the customer how you did. You can use all the internal metrics at your disposal, but in the final analysis it’s about how the customer felt about your actions.

Perception is reality, so take action from their feelings regardless if your own tracking says you did an ok job.

#3. Empower people — Speed requires a flat organization structure devoid of the need to escalate action for approval.

OOPS! recovery success is inversely related to bureaucracy: the more bureaucracy involved in making decisions, the longer it takes to take action and the recovery window closes. And you’ve lost the opportunity the screwup presented.

So if you’re serious, you have to empower people to do things to recover without the need to ask anyone for approval (the recovery plan will of course have guidelines to follow but that’s all they are - guidelines).

This is where leaders must step up and declare that they trust that people will do the right thing for both the customer and the organization, and that in recovery mode the organization structure is virtually flat and that an all-out assault on the OOPS! is to be supported by everyone who touches it.

#4. Provide superlative support to the frontline — Frontline people are lynchpins in the OOPS! chain, from when things go bad until recovery is complete.

If frontline people are not supported by authority to command the rest of the organization into action with the tools they need, your recovery plan goes south. Make sure your plan has the investments with the necessary leadership trust to give you a fighting chance to win every OOPS! event.

To make your organization OOPS! resistant, do the best you can to avoid making a blunder (which people expect you to do) but make sure you add the special ingredient—‘recovery sauce’—to recover memorably when you do.

Related: 10 Easy Ways You Can Create an Audacious Personal Brand