The Three Rules of Damage Control

Did you ever notice that nobody takes responsibility for anything anymore? When’s the last time you heard somebody say “I was wrong, and here’s what I’m going to do to fix it”? Or, for that matter, when’s the last time you heard somebody say “I was wrong”?

We all mess up. Every single one of us. It’s an inevitable byproduct of humanity, really. The question is this: how do you come back from it? Do you hide and hope it all goes away? Do you lie and spin and cover in an effort to fool your customers, clients and (in some cases) your employees? Do you own up to it?

That last one typically sends chills down the spine of most sales people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve small business owners say to me “but if I tell them, they won’t buy”. Well sometimes that’s just what happens, but more often than not, you’ll find out that a someone who’s honest, even when faced with the possibility of losing the sale or the client, will more often than not come out on top.

I’m a huge fan of the show The West Wing, and during one of the episodes, one of the characters was talking to his pregnant ex-wife, and said something that really stuck with me. I don’t remember the exact quote, but to paraphrase, he defined the three rules of damage control as these:

Get the information out early: Did something go wrong in your manufacturing process? Is there an issue with your staff? Did something break? There are millions of potential issues that face small businesses every day and any one of these could spell disaster for the customers and clients (even your employees) who count on you to provide your product or service to them. Don’t you think they’d be more appreciative and understanding if you let them know up front instead of when the problem reached critical mass?

Now I’m not saying that you should publicize every little issue that arises in your company, you have to be discreet. But next time something happens, ask yourself this question: “If I were my customer, would having this information help me?” The only real way that your customers will know that you’re being honest with them when things are good is if you’re honest with them when things go wrong, too.

Get it out yourself: You’d think that this is pretty self explanatory but you’d be surprised. Obviously, as small business owners, we don’t have the resources to do a fully covered press conference every time something happens, but with the resources that are available now, we certainly have the capability to cycle a press release through the proper internet channels. When someone does a search on your company or product, would you rather them find an angry blogger who’s complaining about you or a press release released by you talking about the problem and the steps you’re taking to fix it?

Do it on your own terms: This one obviously goes hand in hand with the one previous, but I think it deserves a little conversation, too. If you’re forced into admitting an issue by someone else, you end up looking dishonest and two-faced. Remember the Ford/Firestone fiasco? How much different do you think that could have been if it was handled correctly and not covered up?

We all make mistakes; we all screw up; things are going to happen that cost us money. That’s life, and it’s something that we have to come to grips with. If you handle it correctly, though, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you’re your business.

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