Posted Tuesday, January 18, 2011 in
By Lance Trebesch, CEO, TicketPrinting.com
Last week, we accidently sent order confirmations to thousands of customers whose orders were completed months ago. It could have been a disaster, but instead it was a surprising success.
All we were trying to do was deploy new checkout functionality on our websites. We spent many months planning, developing, and testing. Finally, everything was ready to deploy just after midnight on January 5th. On that fateful night, team members stayed up all night ensuring that our plans came to fruition. In the wee hours of the morning, with deployment completed, it seemed that all had gone smoothly—until we discovered one “minor” glitch: we inadvertently sent erroneous order delivery emails to every customer who purchased a product off our websites within the past nine months! It was 1:30 a.m. and the clock was ticking.
Clearly, this could have been a mess. It could have resulted in annoyed customers complaining about junk emails or even angry customers assuming that we were trying to double-bill them or ship ticket printing and event products they hadn’t ordered. But, in the long run, this mistake became a learning experience with a positive outcome.
Why? Because we had already established a trust relationship with these customers, and we took immediate steps to confirm the non-malicious nature of our mistake. Here’s what we did:
- Investigate. Since we were already monitoring functionality, we identified the problem immediately, by about 1:40 a.m.
- Communicate. As soon as we could explain the problem, we posted updates on our websites and I wrote a brief post on our blogs, including all the details that might affect customers.
- Respond. Starting at 2 a.m., when the east coast was waking up, I personally and immediately answered every email from every customer. I explained what had happened and apologized for any inconvenience.
- Communicate some more. We sent emails to all customers notifying them of the issue, and changed our Customer Support phone message to reflect this information.
- Stay on top of it. Throughout the next 24 hours, I immediate responded to every customer, again explaining what happened and expressing my profound apologies.
This experience really highlighted for me how positive energy can be generated by any experience. Rather than dealing with irate customers (or worse, former customers), we learned how our customers really felt.
For many, our fast response was an admirable positive, as evidenced by this letter:
Thanks for the email about the earlier email error. As a business owner, I also believe in addressing things head on. Many others would have avoided admitting their mistake, hoping that the email either went to spam or simply didn’t register in the customer’s mind. However, mistakes are a reflection on your brand and you, and ultimately your bottom line. Therefore, I applaud your quick and honest response.
Funny, I actually need to reorder and you can bet that PerforatedPaper.com has won my business. That’s a lot to say in a business where there is little value add, if any. I hope the coming year brings you continued success and strong customer relationships.
For others, any communication, even that sent in error, was a positive. Several customers responded by explaining that they had already received their shipments, and were completely satisfied: “We loved the event tickets,” read one email. “The raffle tickets look fantastic,” said another. “We are pleased with the marketing stickers,” a third customer reported.
Since we had already established our reputation as an honorable business, there seemed to be no question in anyone’s mind of malevolent intent. “I figured it was just a burp in the system,” one customer succinctly explained. Others added, “thanks for checking in,” and, most telling as to the appropriateness of our response, “no worries—thanks a million for the immediate follow-up. Happy New Year!” Everyone was very understanding and came to the same conclusion: that technological glitches do happen.
But the most positive, and most unexpected result of our foul-up and fast response was a bump in business! This problem, and our solution to it, brought us to the fore of customers’ minds. As one email put it, “it was a good mistake to make—got you in front of your customers again.” This writer even went on to say that he would be reordering. In fact, many emails expressed this exact sentiment. “Timely mistake,” said one, “I need to reorder perforated paper again.” Another customer reported, “Your error just made you money! It reminded me I need to order more stickers and see what else you have that I can’t live without.”
The response, overall, was one of amusement and sympathy, expressed with LOLs and emoticons.
While I wouldn’t advocate manufacturing a crisis for the purpose of generating web traffic, I’m taking two happy lessons from this experience, reminders of powerful advice for business-building. First, progress cannot happen without risk-taking. We never achieve our vision if we don’t take risks. Our checkout and shopping cart upgrade was a complex, risky process for us, but we needed to improve our shopping cart code, and we knew it would benefit us in the long term.
Second, it’s important to remember that mistakes will happen, no matter how cautious you are, but you are not defined by your mistakes. In the end, there was no negative impact, because what is important to our customers is how we acted in the past and how we respond in the present.
Past Action + Present Response = Success!