Learning From Your Mistakes

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In business as in life, mistakes can and do happen to everyone, even the most cautious and well-intentioned individuals and companies. But contrary to popular convention, some of the most successful leaders and entrepreneurs understand that not only are mistakes an essential part of the growth process, but they also represent opportunities to learn and improve.

Mistakes Are Bad! (Or Are They?) How Mistakes Can Be Beneficial to Your Business

As Forbes contributor Russ Alan Prince observed, "Self-made millionaires usually have a litany of stories about bad business decisions and bad investments, choosing to work with the wrong people, and so many times where they knew better but failed to act appropriately. It appears that failure is inevitable. The key to success is what you make of your failures."

At the end of the day, businesses and companies are made up of individuals. In the absence of a cohesive and actionable policy and culture that embraces the value in understanding how and why mistakes happen (as opposed to sweeping them under the rug, stagnating or growing defensive, for example), organizations often miss out on a valuable opportunity to evolve.

John Sculley, former CEO at none other than Apple, takes it a step further and suggests that successful businesses and people actually learn and prosper from their mistakes, not their successes. But there is something of a catch here. For your mistakes to be beneficial and transformative, you have to first make an effort to understand what went wrong - and then take action to learn the lesson and make the necessary changes. After all, learning is only half the battle.

How to Help Your Organization Learn - and Grow - From Mistakes and Service Failures

Every successful outcome stems from trial and error, and that is especially true when building a successful company in general and a customer service program in particular. Here are a few tips to help your company make the most of every customer or user interaction, good or bad:

  • Treat negative customer interactions as an opportunity to reflect on what went wrong, and what you could do better.

  • Perform periodic reviews and audits of your systems and processes to identify areas you need to modify or include to prevent future failure.

  • Discuss service failures with your staff, and solicit feedback and suggestions for improvements to your customer service strategies.

  • Admit your mistakes, and use them as an opportunity for both your business and your own personal growth.

  • Create channels and invite your customers to provide constructive criticism about their experience. Something like a dedicated customer service line, or an online form where they can voice their concerns and frustrations, can go a long way toward salvaging a customer relationship.

Ultimately, people want to feel like they are being heard, and that their concerns are being taken seriously. Providing a dedicated internal outlet for your customers to vent about a bad experience can provide your company and team with valuable feedback. It can also potentially deter frustrated customers from taking their concerns (and negative reviews of your company) to the public via Yelp or Google.

To paraphrase the late great Miles Davis, in business as in music, it's the note you play after hitting a wrong note that determines whether something is good or bad.