What Can Happen If You Overpromise a Customer

January 1, 2017, 5:00 PM UTC
Travelers At Ronald Reagan Airport Ahead Of Thanksgiving Holiday
An American flag hangs above travelers waiting in line before going through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016. Trade group Airlines for America predicts that 27.3 million people will fly over the 12 days it counts as the Thanksgiving travel period, a 2.5 percent increase from 2015. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you bounce back after making a major mistake?” is written by Joshua Hebert, CEO of Magellan Jets.

Mistakes often seem bigger than life, and that’s especially true in our world of private aviation. We’re dealing with customers who can be considered “elite” and as such, we stand to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars when things don’t go right.

We know that everyone stumbles, though, and when that happens, the most important thing to do is minimize the damage in the moment and turn the mistakes into a positive.

One of our most memorable setbacks was with a private travel customer who wanted us to help out when one of our competitors let her down. This was no small deal—one of the top celebrities in the world had a mechanical issue with her jet, and needed us to get her from London to New York overnight.

What we did next wasn’t the best idea: We promised the world. Even though we didn’t quite have everything lined up, we said we could make it happen on a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, when we put the pieces together for the flight we found that the pilots would have too much time in the air that day. That would have violated our safety standards, so we had to tell them we could not complete the flight.

The customer was more than angry and swore she would never do business with us again. We apologized profusely and told her that safety was a bigger concern to us than losing her business. Two hours later, she called back and thanked us for being concerned about her well-being and for ensuring that her safety was the top priority. She changed the concert date and flew with us the next day.

We bounced back from our mistake quickly because we showed the client what is important to us. We also learned how to improve our communications process so we wouldn’t overpromise—and under deliver—again.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when big mistakes feel like the end of the world:

Don’t delay bad news

Deliver bad information quickly. That’s especially true in our line of work, as we’re responsible for making sure customers stay on very tight schedules. Even if you’re in a typical office setting, though, people make decisions based on the information they have. If you don’t let people know about an issue, you’re hurting them and potentially creating an even bigger problem.

That’s one reason we feel strongly that whatever your situation, you need to own it. Otherwise you leave the door open for questions about what happened and who was involved, and that can quickly turn into a witch hunt. When your team knows the details quickly, they can fix things faster and fewer people get pulled in.


Trust yourself

The aforementioned celebrity stayed with us because we had a set of standards we trusted and wouldn’t compromise on them. Everyone should have certain rules they work by—whether the whole company or an individual. When you can make a mistake and say, “Here’s what I’m willing to do to fix it, and here’s what I’m not willing to do,” it sets clear parameters and lets people know what’s most important to you. Being honest and only committing to submit high-quality work are examples of standards that you should stick by, even in tough situations.

Institutionalize your lessons

It’s important to prevent your mistakes from reoccurring. After the celebrity incident, we added a new flight support element to our team. Now, when “ASAP” trips are booked, we call our customers every 15 minutes within a few hours of the flight to give them updates on the status of their upcoming flight. Even if there is nothing to report, we touch base so that there is no miscommunication.

Mistakes hurt, but trying to run from them just makes their consequences worse. You’ll remember your biggest mistakes for a long time, but you (and your customers) will remember how you recover from them even more.

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