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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

How Mistakes Can Enhance Your Brand

When your business makes a mistake, it's an opportunity to enhance your brand.

That sounds nonsensical, doesn't it?

After all, wouldn't your business be better off if it never made a mistake when it came to delivering exceptional products and services to your customers?

No, for two reasons.

First, if you execute everything perfectly all of the time, then "perfect" becomes "business as usual" and your customers will rarely be impressed by "business as usual".

And second, because there isn't a business in existence with a perfect record when it comes to flawless execution; if your business model depends on never, ever making a single mistake, you're in a lot of trouble.

Your business will inevitably make a mistake at some point.

But how you handle that mistake can make all the difference.

This past summer, in an attempt to create one of those "my Dad was awesome" memories for my two superhero-loving sons, I picked them up from their school at their lunch hour, unannounced, and took them to watch The Flash on the day it was released.

There's a theatre less than 12km from my house, but I wanted to go to a show that would start in the early afternoon so my eldest son could still attend his evening martial arts class, which I knew he wouldn't want to miss. There aren't many theatres that offer early afternoon start-times these days, but I found one via a theatre in North Barrie.

A photo of the exterior of North Barrie Cineplex.

The North Barrie Cineplex is 43km away from my house, but I wasn't about to let some extra distance stop me from delighting my sons. So I pre-purchased three tickets, mapped out my route, and determined what time I'd need to pick up my boys to arrive in time for the start of the film. I emailed each of their teachers to share my plan and asked if they could both be waiting for me in the school's office at the designated pick-up time. Both happily obliged: I suspect any judgement I may have earned for taking my sons out of school to see a movie was offset by the fact I was trying to do something uniquely special for my kids.

I wouldn't tell my boys where we were going for the entire drive, which isn't easy to accomplish for what ended up as a 45-minute car ride. But I allowed them to make guesses, and once I confirmed we weren't heading to the doctor's office or the dentist, their excitement began to build. When we arrived at the theatre, the surprise was revealed; my boys couldn't believe they were missing school to watch a movie, and that their usually uber-strict father was not only okay with this idea, but he was the one who planned it. Incredible!

Hand-in-hand, the three of us approached the theatre's entrance. I pulled on the door handle, and... nothing. The door was locked. That's when we noticed the sign that had been taped to the glass.

The movie's start time had been moved from 1:10 pm to 3 pm.

Cineplex had the ability to let me know the start time had changed before I arrived in the area: I bought tickets using my Cineplex account, and my phone number and email address are both in my profile. The theatre could have let me know ahead of time... but it didn't.

I was upset. I had taken my kids out of school and driven 45 minutes to see an afternoon film; had I known the start time was going to be moved, I could have refunded my tickets for the North Barrie theatre, purchased tickets at the cinema only 15 minutes away from my home, and picked up my boys after school was finished for their surprise screening. My eldest son still would have missed his class, sure, but that would have been a choice I made, not one forced upon me by an unexpected and unannounced schedule change.

Upset, but not wanting to ruin my day, I decided to make the most of the two hours we now had before the film's new start time: I took my sons for lunch at a nearby McDonald's then we went browsing through the aisles at the Dollarama located next to the theatre. I may have been upset with the film's delayed start time, but my boys got McDonald's and a pile of Dollarama candy on top of their movie surprise, so they weren't bothered at all.

As it approached 3 pm, the three of us headed back to the theatre. I saw a man in a Cineplex uniform unlocking the door from the inside to let an employee in. Before he could close the door, I asked, "Are you the manager?" He confirmed that he was, at which point, I politely let him know what had happened, and that my boys and I had been in the area for two hours as a result, and I wasn't at all happy about the movie's time change.

What do you think this manager did?

He could have offered an empty apology. He could have explained he wasn't responsible for setting the theatre's showtimes. He could have shrugged and done nothing at all.

To his credit, he didn't do any of those things.

Instead, he invited me into the theatre (ahead of the theatre's official opening) and asked me to wait in the lobby while he looked into the situation. After a few minutes at a computer, he returned and explained that the showtime had been changed the day before, but the theatre didn't have any way of contacting me to let me know.

I had expected an apology, and the theatre's manager offered one I felt was sincere: he admitted the theatre should have found a way to let me know the showtime had changed and told me he regretted the fact that I had been inconvenienced.

A sincere apology would likely have been enough to bring my feelings about Cineplex back to "net zero": the place where they were before this inconvenience occurred.

But then the theatre manager went beyond an apology.

Without my having to even ask, he proactively offered me three premium passes valid for any show, on any date, in any format, at any theatre. The passes didn't have an expiry date and could be used whenever I wanted to use them. And since I'd only purchased "regular" passes to see the film that day, these new passes represented a premium to what I had paid.

Cineplex had made a mistake, and I had been inconvenienced as a result.

And yet, through the theatre manager's simple and sincere actions, a negative experience was turned into a positive one: I went from being upset with Cineplex for changing its showtime to planning my next visit.

Had a mistake not been made, I'd have had a great afternoon with my boys, but almost certainly wouldn't have felt any differently about Cineplex at the end of it.

Because a mistake was made and handled well, I had a great time with my boys and also ended up feeling more positively about Cineplex: their mistake was an opportunity for the theatre chain to enhance its brand in my eyes, and they were able to do just that.

Your business will make a mistake at some point.

But how you handle that mistake can make all the difference.

Think about that the next time you're updating your customer service policies.

A photo of the author with his two sons.


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