“It’s our fault,…really.”


I witnessed a tragedy in customer service this week.

About 6 of us were riding in the shuttle bus from long term parking to the airport terminal.  As the bus rounded a turn, water poured out of the AC unit above the back seats and gave one business woman an unwanted shower.  She came forward in a moment and with a cool calmness, complained to the bus driver.  The driver immediately started stammering excuses about how AC units were supposed to do that, how it wasn’t the driver’s fault, and other deflections.  No sympathy.  No condolences.  

How unfortunate!

You can guess what happened next.  Because the driver did not accept responsibility for the event, the wet haired woman became even more flustered.  She told the driver she was having a business meeting in another city in a few hours.  She was sure the water was contaminated. She demanded to know who was responsible for the buses.  The other riders began to sympathize with her and identify with her plight.  We silently began to blame the shuttle company even though logic told us it was likely a deferred maintenance problem.

Why?  Because the driver – the company representative – did not “own” the problem.  The driver forced the ownership of the problem back the customer.  Bad move.

We’ve all heard the expression “the customer is always right”.  That doesn’t mean the customer makes no mistakes or is never at fault.  It means to never let the customer own the problem.  YOU own the problem.  The customer may be the only entity that can fix it.  No matter.  YOU own the problem.  The customer may be 100% at fault.  No matter.  YOU own the problem.  

When you make it clear to the customer that you recognize there is a problem and you are going to do what you can to find a solution, the customer sees you as an advocate.  Not an adversary.  

Now I realize there are some circumstances where “admitting fault” is not prudent.  Like at the scene of an auto accident.  Or other touchy legal situations.  This is different.

But in the delivery of goods or services where the customer receives less than satisfactory (to them!) service, you can normally accept the responsibility.  You can say “It’s our fault, …really” or “I’m sorry that happened, we should have prevented that” or “I am responsible for that”.  These kind of words signal the the customer that you are taking ownership of the problem and not deflecting the problem back to the customer or anywhere else.

To win loyal customers, every person in your organization needs to be customer focused.  Everyone needs to take responsibility for customer issues and allow customers to always be “right”.  This is not just the role of a few individuals.  It needs to be company wide.

My guess is, this bus driver was taught the routes, how to call in when leaving the terminal, and how not to leave people standing on the lot waiting for a ride. I think the idea of owning the customer’s problems wasn’t a class they offer there.  

I fly again in a couple days.  I haven’t decided yet if I’ll choose a different parking company.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s