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The ServiceLine Blog post is all about Talking and discussing about Customer Experience, Customer Support, Events and Technology driving delivery of exemplary customer service and support.

Owning Up - Strathmore University Heals

The best and most brave corporations are often tempted to sweep their mistakes under the carpet. It's human nature to want to do so. However, after sweeping everything under the rag, what is left in the shell? Despite your best efforts to ensure customer delight, you are bound to make mistakes. What should you do when you are guilty of one? - Own Up

The terror drill at Strathmore University was well intended and should it have been well executed, it would have met it's objective of preparing students and staff in the event that they are attacked by terrorists. That was a good intent and should be taken up and practiced by most institutions in Kenya - Because terror is indeed a threat in this beautiful country.

The fact that it never went well - and many bad and regrettable things happened, does not mean it was a criminal act and from the process, everybody has a learning. I would like to delve into that but will shelve it for another day. Today, it is important to know how owning up to your mistake as a corporate is way better than trying to sweep everything under the carpet.

Vice chancellor of Strathmore University Professor John Odhiambo, in a press statement, apologized for the botched drill. This is an exemplary display of ownership, responsibility, accountability and leadership. 

"I offer an unreserved apology to every student, parent, family, colleague and stakeholder for the unfortunate outcome of the security drill that was carried out in the university on 30th November 2015, at 12:00PM," he said.

"We particularly offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Esther Kidambi, the member of staff we lost as a consequence of this security drill. We empathise with each and every student, parent, family, colleague and stakeholder who suffered injuries, trauma and inconveniences."

This is an indication of what the core values of Strathmore University are as an institution of learning. The most important asset that your business has is trust. It has taken you several years to acquire it. As someone in business, you may have several competitors snapping at your heels, but it is trust your customers have in you that keeps them away from copy-cat-organizations. Your sparkling reputation is quite like crystal - infinitely beautiful yet terribly fragile.

When you are in business, you must learn that mistakes are bound to happen, but when you make a minor glitch or a major mess-up, how you react matters much more than what you did. The benefits of owning up are clear and long term as compared to the contrary. Below are just some of them:

  1. Proves you are still worthy of trust - It takes courage to face the consequences of your mistakes. Sure, customers don't like it when you slip up, but you redeem yourselves in their eyes by owning up. They will appreciate your honesty and, if you find a way to make it up to them, they will even praise you for it.
  2. You give a human face to your brand - Customers appreciate a human touch in their interactions with brands. A little mistake on your part makes your brand appear as human as they are, and they'll be more than willing to forgive you for it. (You must pull up your socks, though – your customers won't show as much forbearance if you make the same mistake a second time!)
  3. Opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to customer focus - the occasional mistake gives you a chance to demonstrate your commitment to exemplary customer service delivery. Go that extra mile to undo the damage, and your customers will admire your effort. Who knows, they might even say good things about you to their friends and relatives!
  4. Opportunity to learn and improve - There's no better teacher than adversity. Once you've made a mistake and found a way out of the mess, you will have learned two things – what you should (or should not) do to ensure that it never happens again.

But how exactly should one respond to a disaster similar to or worse than what has been witnessed at Strathmore University? You pose and ask. Unfortunately our instincts generally throw us to either side of the coin. On one side, you may act too quickly—saying too much and over complicating a situation in your attempt to recover quickly. On the other, you may be tempted to hastily cover up what happened and look for ways to defend yourself. While seeking help and self-preservation are both natural, neither extreme is the most effective when it comes to owning up to a mistake.

So, how do you show that you're sorry and concerned, while also portraying confidence and poise? Not too hot, not too cold? Below are guidelines:

    Situation #1: REACTIVE

    You walk to your customers telling everyone you meet that you have made a big mistake and that you are very sorry. "I'm so sorry," you repeat dramatically, over and over, convinced that your mistake means the end of the business.

    This approach poses several problems. To you, showing remorse and that you care, but to everyone else, you are constantly demonstrating that you are not able to handle tough situations. (And frankly, you immediately start to become annoying.)

    Situation #2: NON-REACTIVE

    You make a mistake the day before and you are yet to react simply because you don't want to look bad. When someone else finally realizes your mistake, you come up with a weak excuse and brushes the issue aside like it's no big deal. To you, you are mitigating the situation, making sure no one around you panics, and you work hard to protect your reputation—but to everyone else, you become insincere and you show that you really do not care.

    By not taking action on your mistake or reaching out to others who could help you mitigate — you not only give your customers the impression that you don't care, you risk not resolving the situation and making it worse over a time which could result to loosing customers.

    Situation #3: RESPONSIVE

    Upon realizing your error, don't react right away. Instead, take a deep breath and analyze possible solutions. If the mistake is something that you can address, act immediately. For example, if you pushed send on a press release that was supposed to be on hold until tomorrow, call the distribution company right away and see if you can catch it before it goes live.

    Mistakes are an unfortunate by-product of growth; if you aren't making mistakes, you're not doing anything new. Offer a sincere apology to your customers, give them complimentary coupons or free service for their trouble and promise to ensure that it never happens again.

    By doing so, you'll undo any damage that your slip-up may have caused, and let your customers know that yours is an ethical, honest business that isn't afraid to own up to its mistakes that could in the long run lead to customer delight.

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