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Good Advice I Never Followed

September 15th, 2011


Early in my career I worked for a boss who told me, “Never apologize.  It’s a sign of weakness.”   Good advice I never followed.

And reinforced by an online webinar I recently attended, presented by an  innovation consultant.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. An email for the webinar, taking place that same day, arrived in my email inbox early in the morning.  I clicked the link to register, which required only an email address.  I was impressed; no lengthy gateway form asking for significant personal and company information. 

The webinar started off well.  The  presenter’s talking points centered on corporate mindsets about innovation and how the value of innovative products  is  sometimes not expressed from the customer or end-user point of view.  The accompanying graphics and product examples reinforced the point.  But after the first few slides, the presenter’s comments and the slides were out of sync.  I sent a polite comment through the chat function about this but the problem persisted.  A few minutes later, the slides stopped progressing entirely, and for the remainder of the webinar I sat eyeball to eyeball with a photo of  Bill Gates staring back at me. 

The  webinar’s technical support person finally broke in to inform the presenter that no one could see the slides he was referencing.  The presenter then tried to describe the unseen slides – an unsatisfying process at best for everyone.   The presenter  tried to salvage the situation by moving to Q&A, only to be informed that not only were we all left staring at Bill Gates, but that in the technical glitches all the participant questions had been lost.  I signed off at that point.

Yes, I felt for the presenter. I’ve also had circumstances in which the best of plans for service delivery don’t unfold as intended. 

I fully expected an acknowledgement email from the presenter (he had my email address from my registration) or at least an apologetic reference in his next blog post. The days went by and the emails for his blog came into my mailbox with no reference to the webinar. 

This morning  a broadcast email arrived, announcing that the same webinar would take place today, inviting me to sign up.  I won’t be.

And the reason is not for the glitches. It’s for the same reason innovation specialists cite as why nothing often happens after a corporate brainstorming session.  The presenter didn’t take ownership of his own webinar and its outcomes.

Whether it’s our technology, our logistics or the limits of the information we have that causes disruptions in service, we own the outcomes.  And if we’re wise, we also see these glitches as an innovative opportunity to demonstrate our integrity and our commitment to seeing the customer’s or user’s point of view.  All it takes is an acknowledgement, an apology, a good faith effort to make it right.  That’s also how we create lasting relationships.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes, and we understand that stuff happens.  But we can’t move our business and customer relationships beyond the stuff that happens until we own our outcomes – our best as well as those that go awry.   

My take-away from the webinar incident wasn’t the content the presenter intended.  What he provided  is a vivid reminder of how my clients and colleagues can feel if I mess up and don’t acknowledge it.  A sincere apology may not be the most innovative customer service effort.  But it’s often one of the most effective.