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How To Screw Up. . .Badly

June 4, 2014

Sam, you’ve guided the narrows on the Menomenee, right?

Yeah, all last year. The trickiest bit is right at the start. You have to get everyone to paddle right and then at the right moment paddle left like mad.

And if you’re too slow?

You go right over Volkswagen and probably dump your guests into the river. That’s the section that makes it a Class IV.

What would you say if our current guide, Max went over Volkswagen every trip. . .on purpose?

I’d say he’s a terrible guide and he’s going to get somebody killed if he’s not careful.

A few days ago I talked about How To Screw Up. . .And Win A Customer For Life. That post from Monday looks at the way you can turn a mistake into an opportunity to win customers.

But, I failed to give the other half of the screw up scenario:

Don’t screw up on purpose!

I know it sounds really obvious, but it’s more common than you might expect. Think about it, you understand your business better than anyone else. If anyone can manufacture a convincing crisis, it’s you. And then, when you “solve” your crisis, you get to be the hero. And you get to do all those cool things I talked about on Monday.

What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s start with the fact that if you are dishonest with your customers, even if they don’t find out, YOU will know. It will impact you and more importantly it will impact your employees. If they see you intentionally manufacturing a crisis for customers, what are they going to think the next time you tell them you need them to stay late? They are going to think you are doing the same thing to them as you do to your customers.

Trust is a fragile thing. It takes a long time to build and can be destroyed in a instant.

The second issue with manufactured crisis is liability. The scenario I quoted above really happened. I was helping to manage a rafting company in Wisconsin. The Menomenee River had a very short, but very fast set of rapids. Sam was an experienced river guide. Getting past Volkswagen was a real challenge and Same went an entire season without missing that turn.

Max on the other hand figured out that customers give tips. And if they think you have saved their life, or the life of their child, they give bigger tips. This wasn’t some ride on Splash Mountain at Disney World. This was a dangerous stretch of river, and Max was putting every boatload of guests he took down at risk so that he could score a few extra bucks.

I didn’t have the power to fire him and I left half way through the season. But, I honestly worried everytime he went out that someone was going to die. And they would die because he manufactured a crisis on purpose.

Hopefully your crisis don’t risk loss of life or limb. But, the concept is the same. Trying to manufacture crisis so that you can “save the day” is like a stock broker who tries to time the market. You might get it right once. Maybe twice. But, eventually you are going to either REALLY screw it up, or you are going to get found out.

Distinguish yourself and your company by providing better service, or a better widget, or a better value. But, avoid the cheap trick of trying to manufacture a crisis simply so you can play the hero.

It’s a false fame that will eventually turn to dross.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

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One Comment
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