When You Screw Up in Business Make It Right

By Spicer Matthews

I have been working since age 12. An almost daily occurrence since my first day of work is that I screw up. I am human, just like most of you, and all humans make mistakes. What distinguishes good entrepreneurs, good employees, and good people is how we handle our screw-ups. Clearly, all screw-ups are not created equal. They can be as minor as showing up a few minutes late for a meeting or taking longer than necessary to respond to a customer—or as major as blowing a deadline or delivering the wrong product. But because screw-ups are about as inevitable as death and taxes, in business the most important thing is not what happened but what happens next. That is, owning up to the mistake and making it right.

All my professional life I have offered, as a matter of course, some kind of restitution when I screw up. As a consultant, if there is an issue with a deliverable I often lower my price or don’t bill at all. As a service provider, if I am not timely answering a support request I often credit the customer’s account with a few months of free service. It simply never occurred to me not to compensate a customer negatively impacted by a mistake I made. Only recently did it truly soak in that other professionals do not necessarily live by the same code. Over the past few months the employees of some companies I have been doing business with let me down by screwing up repeatedly. Oftentimes, when confronted, they owned up but offered nothing in return to make up for my losses. Not compensating for a significant mistake borders on dishonest.

The next time you screw up at work think about the impact your mistake has on the affected parties. Own up to it and try to restore the lost value somehow. Your customers will appreciate and trust you a lot more. A little loyalty goes a long way!