We need to talk about failure

There is one thing I excel at, it’s failure. I’ve singularly failed at well over half the things I’ve ever attempted to do. And even those of you that are poor at statistics will be able to work out those aren’t good odds.

Learn to play the guitar? Fail
Learn to speak German? Fail
Learn to code? 404

Significant parts of my working life have also included spectacular fails – its hard sometimes to not bring your whole self to work…..

Let me tell you about someone else that failed, my friend Steve. Last week he tried to swim across the English Channel to France. Now that’s not easy, in the same week someone tragically lost their life whilst trying to complete the same challenge. Steve stopped seven and a half hours in to his attempt. In a Facebook post he said this,

“Yesterday was not my day. I’m really disappointed, as can be expected. I trained hard for this for 18 months, and thought I had it covered. Battles were lost in the lumpy sea with wind against tide as we progressed into the open water (albeit that my pilot Simon described them as good for the channel), vomiting everything in my stomach and more after 2.5 hours, and struggling to take on more fuel quickly enough, but the war was undoubtedly lost in my mind, and that’s what I’m most disappointed about.”

Steve failed. And in my book, that makes him great.

In the world of work, we struggle to fail. We invest so much time, effort and energy in making things happen that we become unable to accept that they’re not a success. We make up reasons for the situation, the environment, the market, the opportunity. When you’ve been through twenty-six board meetings, fourteen rounds of business cases and eventually got the go ahead, it is pretty hard to accept that anything isn’t right.

And when we cannot accept that we’ve failed, we pass up the opportunity to learn. We take nothing away, because we create a narrative that explains events through untrue circumstances.

Read that comment from Steve again. Did he blame the waves? The wind? The flotsam and jetsam of our muddied waters? Or did he analyse and own his own performance.

All of us will fail this week in small and inconsequential ways. We won’t all be swimming the channel, or starting new businesses. We won’t be running marathons or climbing mountains. But nonetheless we can learn from our failures all the same.

I love failure, you should love failure. We should embrace failure as our biggest opportunity to grow, not as the biggest threat to our self-worth. At the end of the day, those who don’t try, can’t fail. And the brave will try, fail, learn, grow and try again. That’s what makes them stand out as exceptional.

So as you go about your business this week, remember we can all be successful at not doing a lot, or we can shoot high and run the risk that we miss.

Maybe it’s me, but I can’t help thinking, things could be a whole lot more interesting if we were all just a little bit more Steve.

How not to engage with customers

I don’t profess to be any sort of marketing or customer service guru. That said, having spent the best part of a decade working in retail, I know a little about managing customer relationships and expectations. 

At the weekend my daughter fell in love with a certain pair of Converse shoes (for those of you that care, they’re the waterfall blue, double tongued variety).  The thing is, the shop that we were in didn’t have her size and so when we got home we went on the internet and eventually found a pair at a shop called Ozzy’s & Archive. Click, click, credit card. Job done.

Until Monday evening when I received an email saying,

“Hi Neil,

Thanks for your recent order of the Converse shoes!

Some bad news im afraid. We have just gone out of stock with this shoe!

We are changing our stock system and some so we are having to manually change stock levels on the site for now, unfortunately you placed an order before we had chance to change your items stock levels online.

Its upto you what you would like to do. Whether you want to choose another item to replace the shoes, or just have your order cancelled. Whatever you want, just let me know!

Again, sorry for the hassle,

Something about the tone really got to me (maybe the excessive use of exclamation marks).  As a customer, I don’t really care what your systems issues are, that is the rational explanation that YOU have for YOUR service failure, it isn’t the emotional attachment that I had with the product that (in my mind) I had already bought. And to compound this, there was there was no recognition of the disappointment – just a choose something else or get your money back standard response.

On the bottom of the email, however I noticed a Facebook page. So I thought I’d check it out. I “liked” the page (which felt somewhat counter intuitive…but hey!) and saw that there was a post about not winning a Retailer of the Year award. At this point you’ll understand I felt obliged to post something, so I wrote a comment on their wall:

Sadly rubbish customer service from Ozzy’s and Archive. You are a long way from Retailer of the Year if you can’t show your stock levels correctly on the site, take an order and then respond with a “choose a different product or have your money back” routine. One lost customer.

I checked back a little while later and lo and behold……my comment had disappeared.  Censorship? Well hang on a minute….so I wrote another comment:

Hi there, I wrote some feedback on here about the poor customer service that I received from Ozzy’s and Archive but it seems to have disappeared. Surely you haven’t deleted it?

And then things just got worse……within 10 minutes that comment was taken down too and my ability to post anything on that page was revoked.

Clearly someone didn’t want people to see any bad comments about their service. Which is what brings me here to write about this today.  The world with social media is a conversation, you might be able to constrain what people see or hear (to a certain extent) but you can’t control what they say.  And ignoring a negative situation, surely doesn’t change how people feel.

Engaging with customers that are disappointed and upset is as, if not more, important than engaging with customers that are advocates.  You can try to control the message, but somehow it will always get out. So wouldn’t it be better in the first place to engage?

Ozzy’s and Archive gave me bad customer service. It wasn’t abysmal, but it was pretty ropey. Through the way that they’ve handled it, however, they have turned a disgruntled customer into someone who wants to write about it and tell the world what a rubbish company he thinks they are. They had a choice how they reacted and treated me and they chose to try to make the problem go away.

Sadly for them, it didn’t.

As a side note, Ozzy’s emailed me again last night elaborating on their justification for their failure, but sadly I can’t reply as their Mailbox quota has been exceeded (how many more customer service crimes can one company commit?). If you want to see the screen prints of the various comments then you can see them below (I don’t normally take screen prints – as you can tell from the other tab open on the first one! – but funnily I had a hunch about this. Oh and I no longer like their page……but Maddy does have a new pair of Converse on the way to her……just from a different shop.

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