The case of the shrunken sweater
Around Christmas I received a very nice, dark grey, V-neck sweater. I don’t remember exactly if I received the sweater as a gift or if one of my sons “donated” it to me, which is a more likely scenario. Because I wear a suit and tie to work most days, and my weekends have been filled with watching basketball game, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to wear that highly fashionable article of clothing.
Finally I was able to wear the sweater and thought I looked pretty darn stylish all day, if I do say so myself. Until I took the sweater off at night and noticed that I had spilled something on it during the day. Not thinking so much about it, I threw it in the pile of clothes that were waiting to be washed. At this point in the story let me explain that I am a very lucky man. I can probably count on two hands the number of loads of laundry I have done in 35 years of being married. My wife takes very good care of me. When I put something in the pile to be washed, it “magically” appears clean a few days later.
So after a few days, when I didn’t see the sweater show up, I began to wonder. I do remember folding a similar sweater that looked like it should fit my wife, but did not see the XXL that was my size. No big deal, I knew that if I was patient, the sweater would show up and I could wear it again. After a few more days, I asked my wife if she recalled seeing the sweater. She did not and told me that she was all caught up on the laundry. Curious, I asked her about her new sweater that looked a lot like the one I was missing. When she said she did not have a new, dark grey, V-neck sweater, I started putting two and two together.
Sure enough, we went to go look at the sweater that I put aside for her to put with her clothes. The label said XXL, but the new size looked a lot more like medium. Upon further examination of the label, in addition to the now mislabeled size, it also said “dry clean only”. I felt like an idiot. There was no way I could blame my wife, long ago we came to an understanding that if she was going to do the laundry, the least I could do was make sure all the pockets were emptied and the clothes were in the laundry room. This problem was not hers, but mine.
As small business owners and managers, we often run into problems where you can assign blame. Nobody likes to make or even discover a mistake, but we are all human, and mistakes are inevitable. The question is how do you handle mistakes? First and foremost if a customer is hurt by our mistake, we have to make it right by them as quickly as possible. This includes a sincere apology. Secondly we need to discover the reason for the mistake, was it lack of attention or is there something wrong with the process?
What we don’t need to do is cause a scene or make someone feel bad for making one mistake. In my experience yelling, screaming and belittling someone does nothing to correct the mistake or prevent it from happening again. Training, with an emphasis on why things happen the way they did is really important. For example I have learned that from now own, before I wear an article of clothing for the first time, I will read and follow label directions. I have certainly learned that lesson and will not make that mistake again. Does anyone need a sweater worn only once?
Small Business Today is a bi-weekly feature written by Tom Friedman, market president of First National Bank, Ankeny.