Mistakes don’t kill relationships. Handling them badly does.

Mistakes Dont Kill Relationships Handling Them Badly Does

.​I’m feeling fresh after a week’s holiday with my wife and young daughter in New Caledonia. It was a great trip – sunshine, palm trees, and cheap French wine.

One slight blemish was my experience with a car rental company on our arrival at Noumea airport.

Anyone who has travelled with an 18-month-old child will understand that you don’t spend the plane trip watching movies and drinking wine. Rather, your time in the air is spent trying everything and anything to entertain/distract said child to best ensure you don’t become public enemy number 1 on the flight.

Needless to say, when we arrived at Noumea airport at 6:30pm, I was tired, and hopeful that the next phase of the journey would be a smooth one. It was not.

We had booked a SUV from a well-recognised car rental company for the week, so that we could explore the island. Upon picking up the car, I was advised that there was no baby-seat available, despite acknowledging that one had been booked. We managed to “borrow” an ill-fitting car seat that, with a bit of “Macgyver-ing” would suffice for a short trip, but wasn’t an acceptable permanent option.

I called the car company the next day and they committed to delivering a replacement car the following morning at 8am.

They did not.

I called them at 9:30am to ask where the car was. They advised that no-one was able to deliver the car so I would need to pick it up. I drove into town and was presented with a small hatchback which, again, did not fit the car seat we had been given.

No solution could be provided, so I told them that I would simply return the car and have my money refunded.

I was told that my money could not be refunded as “the invoicing system was down”. To add fuel to the fire, I was then told I would be charged for not returning the car with a full tank of petrol and I would have to find my own way back to my hotel.

In summary:

  • I had paid for a rental car, including a car seat that fits, for 7 days

  • I had got a rental car, without a car seat that fits, for 1 day (and a whole lot of time wasted)

Two weeks later, I am still working on securing a refund. Will I ever use this car company again? Absolutely not. But not because of the mistake they made, but because of the terrible way it was handled.

I have worked in the recruitment industry for the last 12 years and have made many a mistake. But I have done my very best to rectify those mistakes to minimise any lasting negative impact.

Counterintuitively, some of my biggest mistakes have gone on to lead to some my strongest client relationships.

Why? Because mistakes bring the opportunity to work more closely and intensively with a client on solving an immediate issue.

From my experience, in both running business and when renting cars, is to follow these steps when you make a mistake:

  1. Own it. Quickly. As soon as you become aware of a mistake, admit there is a problem and concede your role in creating it.

  2. Apologise. Sincerely.Acknowledge the pain or inconvenience that has been caused as a result of the mistake.

  3. Recommend a solution.Most importantly, advise the person how you are going to solve the problem that has been created. Prove that you are taking the situation seriously and are committed to resolving it.

  4. Don’t make promises you can’t deliver.Two wrongs don’t make a right. Be certain that you can deliver on any solution you recommend.

  5. Learn from it. Once the dust has settled and the immediate issue has been resolved, invest the time to review the situation and amend your approach, procedures, technology, people, to ensure that the mistake is not made again. Let your client know the changes you have made so they know the mistake won’t happen again

  6. Move on.Once you have successfully resolved the mistake, move on from it. Expect your client to do the same. Don’t let mistakes of the past tarnish your relationship in the future.

Mistakes are made by best of us. An oversight, a breakdown in communication, a missed deadline.  It’s how you handle them that determines whether they will end a relationship or strengthen it.