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Turn Goof-ups into Gold - The Sequel

It’s like déjà vu all over again.

My article, “Turn Goof-ups into Gold”, advised business owners to take advantage of mistakes – to show their customers that they are sorry for the mistake, that they accept responsibility, and will do what it takes to make things right. This sort of unexpected and uncommon response is likely to turn an unhappy soul into a fiercely loyal lifetime customer who will tell lots of other folks how wonderful your company is.

Just when I thought it was time to find other topics to write about, my friend Dave (his real name) bent my ear about an unfortunate experience he had with a local business, Bob’s Automotive (not their real name.)

He took his car to Bob’s for new rear shocks. In the process of removing the old shocks, the technician (When did we stop calling them mechanics?) damaged the rear anti-lock braking system sensors. The tech looked the make and model up on the web and found out that this is a common problem. Apparently the sensors are positioned in a way that makes them susceptible to being easily damaged when working on the shocks.

Dave was informed of the problem and Bob’s made him this offer: “If you’ll buy the parts, we’ll install them for free.” And, the service manager presented this deal as if Dave was getting the offer of a lifetime. Quite the big favor, in the service manager’s mind.

By the way, the parts ran $400. Dave didn’t ask, but I’ll bet anyone a lunch that Bob’s marked up the parts to get to that price.

Despite Dave’s reasoned protest - and he’s an attorney, very skilled at arguing his case – Bob’s wouldn’t budge. Either pay the four hundred bucks or drive your car away with the ABS warning lights glowing brightly.

So Dave did pay the $400. And he vowed to never go back to Bob’s Automotive.

Since that dark day, Dave has told innumerable people about his experience and of course, he’s identifying the shop by its real name. As you can imagine, Dave’s description of the situation is more colorful than mine. My own vocabulary has been enriched by this experience.

Here’s one way the auto shop might have handled this calamity:

“Sir, I want to let you know about something that happened during the replacement of your shocks. Our technician accidentally damaged your ABS sensors. We did some research and found out that this is an extremely common occurrence. We replaced the sensors at no charge and everything is back to original condition. Just so you know, the sensor replacement would normally be well over $500 for parts and labor, but since it’s our mistake, of course will be no charge to you. By the way, we learned a valuable lesson and now know how to avoid this same error on your make and model. We very much appreciate your business and hope to be of service in the future.”

What a lost opportunity – a golden opportunity - for this auto shop. Had they handled it this way, Dave would now be a raving fan. He’d still be telling folks about his experience, but in glowing, positive terms and heartily recommending this shop. You can’t buy that kind of advertising for $400.

Instead, they made an enemy of Dave. He’s now on a mission to tell every man, woman and child in North America to steer clear of the place. I expect him to re-join the Catholic Church any day now, just so he can get the priest in the confessional and tell him about his ordeal.

The shop also lost an opportunity to illustrate to their employees what kind of values they hold dear. Holding themselves accountable and doing the right thing would have shown their team what the ownership is made of. Not just words, but action. We put our money where our mouth is. Instead, they have signaled that side-stepping responsibility is an acceptable practice.

Four hundred bucks. For a measly $400 this company could have acquired a life-long customer, his unending word-of-mouth support and the dozens of new customers Dave would refer to them … plus all the new revenue they’d represent. This company would have been reaping the benefits long after the $400 was forgotten.

Instead, they put $400 in the cash register.


Bill Collier is the author of “How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life” and is the St. Louis area coach for The Great Game of Business. He helps businesses teach their employees to think and act like owners. He can be reached at 314-221-8558 or




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