Everybody makes mistakes.

That’s a great message to give to your five-year-old when she spills milk over her homework, but lack of perfection and mistakes can cause real problems in the adult world. Undoubtedly, there will be a time when you, or one of your techs, will discover that a customer’s problem was directly caused by another tech’s screw-up.

What do you do? How do you handle it?

Use Checklists to Prevent the Mistakes at the Beginning

Last summer, the water pipes in our neighborhood had to be updated, and this meant that our water was shut off. We knew the water would be off for a few hours, but after six or seven hours without water and not a workman in sight, I called up the water company. Oops, they had left for the day without turning the water back on. If they had a simple checklist for such jobs, someone would have turned the water back on without my prompting. Checklists have saved companies millions of dollars and have probably saved millions of lives when applied in industries like healthcare and air travel. The best way to respond to mistakes is to ensure they don’t happen again.

Evaluate the Seriousness of the Situation

It took 15 minutes from the time I called for a technician to come out and turn the water back on. Reasonable enough.

But, other mistakes can be life-threatening. A tech that fails to properly install a furnace can cause a carbon dioxide leak that can kill or injure the homeowners. While the fix may be quick, the consequences could be serious.

In these situations, the tech needs proper and prompt re-training on the issue, and perhaps some disciplinary procedures, such as a suspension. Mistakes that can result in serious damage or death need to be taken extremely seriously and measures must be put into place to make sure they don’t happen again.

The trick is not to overreact or underreact. You want to hold a balance between nobody’s perfect and everybody makes mistakes and you could have killed someone. Make sure the response fits the situation.

Apologize to the Customer

Some companies don’t want to admit fault so there’s never an apology and the customer has to fight for any compensation for the problem. While the customer is not always right, if your tech made the mistake, your best solution is to apologize and think about what might make it right —  like offering an appropriate discount. Instead of having the customer angry because of the mistake, you’ll often win their trust with your honesty and compensation. And really, when it was your mistake, pretending it wasn’t doesn’t help matters.

Understanding that mistakes will happen and having a plan for fixing them when they do can reduce the stress of all involved, and help keep your customers happy.

ABOUT Suzanne Lucas

Avatar photoSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She now writes about Human Resources and Business for a number of different publications.