The Mistake Process

This is a post about dealing with mistakes. To illustrate the process we use at JCD Repair, I’m going to use an example of an iPhone 4 that we broke. Before I go any farther, I’d like to state one thing: Our repair technicians are fantastic and they do an incredible job.

I don’t say that to brag or for marketing reasons, but I want you to know that what happened here is extremely uncommon. In the past year we’ve fixed over 12,000 iPhones, iPads, and iPods with a 99.9% success rate. That said, once in a very rare while we make a mistake. That’s what this post is about. Mistakes. They are fact of life – business or personal life – and it’s what you do after a mistake happens that really defines who you are as a business or as a person.

So without further ado, a real world example of a mistake and how we dealt with it…

About a year ago one of our best technicians completed a cracked screen repair on an iPhone 4. When he was done, everything worked great except for one problem: The front facing camera no longer worked. The technician in question double checked all the connections and even replaced the front camera with a new one. All to no avail. He then grabbed a known working iPhone 4 and started comparing the motherboard on that iPhone to the one he had been fixing. He discovered an extremely small component was missing from the one he had just fixed. When I say small, I mean extremely tiny – on the order of a 1/2 millimeter long and a 1/4 millimeter wide. Barely even visible without a magnifying glass.

The component was located directly underneath one of the connectors that has to be pulled up to free the broken screen. The technician doing the repair had released that connector on 100 previous phones with no problem. But this time, something went wrong. Most likely his fingernail had nicked the component when prying up the connector. Obviously, they don’t put chips on motherboards for fun – they all have a purpose. The purpose of this connector was related to the front facing camera which, once the component was lost, no longer functioned.

So there we were with an iPhone 4 that now had a perfectly good working screen but no longer had a functioning front camera. What to do?

Step 1: Fess Up and Apologize – No Excuses

Mistakes happen. Every reasonable person in the world is aware of that. No one is perfect. Since companies are made up of people, no company is perfect. But that doesn’t mean that making mistakes is consequence free. The first thing you have to do is speak up and let your customer know what happened. Do not  try to hide it or cover it up. Don’t lie about it. Don’t simply ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

Admit your mistake right away.

In the case above, the customer was actually in our store at the time of the incident. Once the mistake had been discovered, our technician literally stood up, told the customer there was a problem, and then calmly explained exactly what had happened. He took full responsibility for the mistake, apologized, and made sure the customer knew that this was our fault.

Step 2: Make it Right

Once we had explained to the customer what happened, the next obvious thing to do is tell the customer what happens next. The wrong way to deal with it is to just say, “Sorry,” and then be done with it. Trust me, we’ve had more than a few customers come into our repair shop with an iPhone or iPad that some other place had tried and failed to fix. More often than not, those companies simply sent the customer on their way and offered nothing in return.

In the case above, we told the customer we would replace his entire iPhone with a brand-new one. Our cost for doing that is anywhere from $400-$600 depending on which version of the iPhone they have. Obviously this is not a cheap solution but the fact is, we felt responsible for what happened and we didn’t even consider another option. This was the right thing to do for our customer.

Step 3: Learn from Your Mistake

I have a small speach I give to just about every new hire we bring on board:

“You are going to make mistakes. I will not be happy when that happens. You should feel really bad when that happens. But don’t worry, you’re not in trouble. Instead, I want you to learn from that mistake and ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

In other words, I view an employees mistakes as part of the training process. And like any training process, there is an expense. (Though hopefully it’s not a $600 iPhone.) So while it doesn’t make me happy to see a mistake, I know it will happen. In fact, there’s no one in our company that has made more mistakes than I have. I’ve made some real doozies in the 5 years I’ve been in business. But the really big question is: Can you learn from that mistake and prevent it from happening again.

In the example above, the employee in question figured out what his mistake was, and we worked together to come up with a solution to make sure the problem didn’t happen again. The good news is, that employee has never made that mistake again. But it gets even better…

Step 4: Spread the Word

If we had simply stopped the mistake process at #3, there is a very strong possibility we would have been dealing with this mistake again – not from the same employee but perhaps one of our other employees or some technician in the future we hadn’t even hired yet. So the last step in dealing with a mistake is to stand on the proverbial mountaintop and let everyone know what happened.

A quick word of warning: This shouting from the mountaintop should not be meant to embarrass or belittle the person that made the mistake. Doing that will only cause them to find a way around step #1 – admitting the mistake in the first place. So when you go about step #4, make sure to do it in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel singled out or like they are being punished.

In our case, we keep a small document for every single repair we do. In that document are a set of tips & tricks for doing a repair. Not a step-by-step process but rather a list of gotchas and time saving tips. In this case, we added a note to the file pointing out this small component and how to make sure it stays put. Then we sent an email to every employee pointing out the problem and summarizing what we had learned to prevent this mistake from happening again. Lastly, we added a specific note about this little component to our training process. All new hires have it pointed out when they are going through our technician training.

I’m glad to say that not only has the initial technician that made this mistake never made it again, neither has anyone else in the company.

The question is not IF a mistake will happen. It will. In fact, many mistakes will happen. So the question you need to be ready to answer is what you will do WHEN a mistake happens, how you will deal with it, and how you will prevent it from happening again. I hope these 4 steps help you with that. If you have anything you’d like to add, please leave a comment – I’m always looking for advice on how to deal with my next mistake.