Are You Forgiving Mistakes or Rewarding Them?

I recently booked a room at the Sofitel New York.

When I arrived, their system showed no record of my reservation, nor did they have any open rooms for walk-ins.

A bit annoyed, I ended up staying across the street at a competing hotel. No problem.

But when I got my credit card statement, Sofitel still billed me. Turns out, they documented my reservation after all. The problem was, I mistakenly booked the room for the wrong date. And it was a non-refundable reservation.

Woops. A bit embarrassed, I asked to speak to the manager. He was friendly, helpful and a great listener.

After speaking with his reservations manager, he decided to refund the charge immediately.

And The Sofitel earned a fan for life from a guest who never even stayed there.

LET ME SUGGEST THIS: Good companies forgive mistakes – but great companies reward them.

Here are a few ways to do so:
1. Respond with a foundation of affirmation. Next time people share their mistakes, thank them for being vulnerable enough to be imperfect. Thank them for giving you the chance to love them unfairly. And thank them for the opportunity to create a service moment.

In the process, you’ll demonstrate unreasonable compassion, unexpected empathy and unprecedented gratitude. You’ll set an example of approachability, deepen your reputation for loving people anyway and make people who aren’t your customers, wish they were.

That’s an act of forgiveness in a moment of transgression. And people don’t just remember it – they’ll repeat it. When was the last time you turned a mistake into a gift?

2. Call a mistake meeting. Once a month, gather your people for a working lunch. Starting with yourself, go around the room and require each person to share a mistake they recently made, one lesson they learned from that mistake and the practical application of that lessons to the other people in the room. Document everyone’s contributions.

Then, mail a hard copy to everyone with a twenty-dollar bill stapled to it and a sticky note with a personal message of gratitude. I promise you’ll make company history. You’ll demonstrate your humanity. And meeting attendance will be through the roof. When was the last time you asked people what their mistakes taught them?

3. Create a cooler error page. If someone types an incorrect address on your website, what happens? Are they confronted with a sterile, unrewarding image that makes them feel incompetent for mistyping? Or do you create a playful, disarming experience that rewards users with an exclusive message?

Twitter accidentally popularized this same concept with their Fail Whale, which ended up becoming a powerful word of mouth marketing too. After all, people value things that are hard to find.

Your challenge is to use your error page to create an act of human forgiveness in a moment of digital transgression. Doing so makes the mundane memorable, rewards people’s mistakes and instantly humanizes your brand. Does your website make people feel good about messing up?

4. Schedule time for making mistakes. The psychological and social pressure that prevents people from making mistakes is also preventing your company from getting better. I’m reminded of the book What Would Google Do, in which Jeff Jarvis makes a powerful point:

“Google never makes you feel foolish for making mistakes. It graciously asks when you misspell or mistype if you meant something else. It doesn’t waste your time trying to find what you want. It just gives you a blank box and puts the world behind it.”

That’s the big secret: Rewarding mistakes doesn’t just make your customers happy – it makes your company smarter. How do you make screwing up okay?

5. Give unexpected compliments. The first time I took hot yoga, I slipped on my mat and nearly fell on my ass. But instead of embarrassing me in front of the class, my instructor gently remarked, “Thank you for listening to your body.”

I felt better immediately. She wasn’t critical, she was appraising. She wasn’t harsh; she was constructive. She wasn’t frustrated; she was fascinated. And she wasn’t judgmental; she was thankful. It was an act of spirit in a moment of struggle. Is that the way you respond to your people when they fall out of posture?

REMEMBER: To make a mistake is human; to reward one, divine.

Next time one of your people messes up, love them anyway.

What are you turning mistakes into?

For the list called, “31 Questions to Turn Your Expertise into Money,” send an email to me, and you win the list for free!

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Publisher, Artist, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.

Now booking for 2011-2012!

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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