People in organisations make mistakes. Just like us …

It’s been quite the few weeks for businesses and unhappy customers. But today my blog isn’t for them or any other businesses. It’s for all the customers out there. In other words all of us, because we’re all customers of something.

From lawsuits about mice in hems to burger joints getting into altercations over missing refunds, we are up in arms. How did we get here? I know there are people and organisations that do the wrong thing, who treat us terribly. But they are the small minority.

I believe the majority of the people who run and work for organisations are well intentioned. They are getting up every day and trying to make it work amidst the myriad of decisions and competing interests that come with the territory. They’re not perfect, far from it. And they will make mistakes. Just like us.

Taking just the two examples I referenced above. No one had a meeting at the burger shop and decided not to make the refund on the cancelled order.

They likely got busy and forgot – something we all do everyday. Perhaps a phone call to follow up rather than a negative review online might have been the way to go (and for the person in the business in question, being aggressive and rude shouldn’t be your response either).

And likewise, I don’t think the factory where Zara get’s it’s clothes manufactured decided it would be fun to sew dead mice into the hems of dresses and see if anyone noticed.

It was a mistake, an oversight that speaks more to the working conditions of the factory. Yes, Zara has a responsibility there, but so do we when we flock to their stores for those cheap dresses.

Which brings me to the question of how did we get here? When did we forget that organisations are run by people and those people are just like us and make mistakes.

In equal parts, I blame social media and the whole “you have to delight your customers every time” meme that permeates customer experience discussions.

The first has given us an unfiltered platform to air any gripe we have. And the second has created a climate of entitlement that feeds the first in a toxic loop that can make it almost impossible to do business.

Now before everyone starts screaming that social media has provided a needed platform to shine a light on the action of bad businesses, I agree.

But there is a world of difference between a car manufacturer deliberately and systematically altering the emissions readings from their cars and someone forgetting to make a refund on a cancelled burger order

Unfortunately nuance is not part of the equation. And we, full of that sense of entitlement I mentioned, certainly don’t discriminate. Speaking of that entitlement, as customers we’re entitled to expect what we’ve been promised will happen (whatever that is). We’re not entitled to expect more than that and if we do and the organisation doesn’t deliver, then that’s on us not them.

Which brings me to my final point. We are part of the trade and it’s past time we stepped up and accepted responsibility for that. We accept terms and conditions (usually without reading them). We grab our cheap dress off the rack and stuff it in the closet without taking a close look at what we’ve bought.

We think just because we are the ones with the money that somehow makes us more important, forgetting the effort and investment in getting whatever we’re buying into our hands.

The whole point of a trade is that there are two sides that need to take equal responsibility and care, and right now things feel seriously out of balance. For commerce to work there has to be trust on both sides. Once that breaks down the whole system gets wobbly.

I think I’ll be examining my role and responses as a customer more carefully. I acknowledge that at times I’ve been one of the flame throwers and I can’t promise I won’t again. Because I also still believe that organisations have a responsibility to be deliberate and conscious in the promises they make. So they can keep them and build a brand people care about.

And when they don’t keep them I’ll be first in line to point it out. However, I also believe we carry our own responsibilities as customers and I’ll be telling that side of the story too.

So next time you’re about to jump online and write a bad review or tweet about a perceived failure you feel deserves your wrath, please stop. Before you hit send, take a minute to wonder – could it be whatever happened wasn’t about you at all. That somewhere, someone just like you made a mistake.

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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Roland Lever
Roland Lever
5 years ago

You certainly have a point, but my impression is that the larger the organisation, the more arrogant it becomes, and it uses its front-line staff as human shields.
I feel sorry for them!

Bad Management
Bad Management
5 years ago

I’m with Roland – yeh we all make mistakes, it’s how you deal with it that matters – and 98% of companies are LOUSY at it.