In today's people economy, the most successful businesses are human companies, not only in their brand but in their interactions with customers.
To be a human company, you have to think of marketing as a person-to-person interaction rather than business-to-business or even business-to-consumer. Think of the Golden Rule and treat your customers as you would like to be treated.
People are hardly perfect and therefore your company can't be, either. You'll make some people angry, but being a successful company isn't about being flawless. It's about how you handle mistakes.
Own the Error
When you make a mistake, your first reaction might be to distance your company from the problem. It's like the student caught passing notes in class and claims it wasn't him. Chances are the punishment would be a slap on the wrist instead of detention if he'd have come clean.
If you're caught doing something wrong, acknowledge your company's role in the mistake and own the issue before it owns you. People tend to be more forgiving when you're upfront.
Airbnb learned this the hard way when a host's home was methodically destroyed and robbed for a week. At first, Airbnb tried to distance itself by saying they were "shocked." But Airbnb refused to pay for the damages because they didn't insure against losses--not a human response or policy. That changed quickly, however, after some less-than-flattering media accounts emerged.
A week later, CEO Brian Chesky posted an unconditional apology on the company blog, admitting that they let the customer down and their initial response was a "screw-up." Then they made it right. They changed their policy and implemented a $1,000,000 Airbnb Guarantee to protect hosts from damage.
The blog post was honest, transparent, and above all, human. While the damage to the home wasn't caused by anyone at Airbnb, they owned the problem. If you can rectify the situation, it shows your customers you care about your relationship. And if it's done right, an apology like Airbnb's can help you create a successful business with strong relationships.
Focus on Loyalty
In today's world of information overload, customers are more empowered than ever. No matter what industry you're in, they have the power to shape your brand through positive and negative reviews. Creating loyalty with your customers is so crucial that when you make a mistake, you have to keep your customers' loyalty in focus.
Not long ago, I parked my car with a valet and it was rear-ended. At first, the valet was apologetic. However, over the course of seven frustrating weeks, his attitude soured. The company dodged their responsibility and made it hard for me to get my car fixed.
The valet company didn't prioritize me as a customer. So if they didn't feel loyal to me as a customer, why should I feel loyal to them? I learned that even if a mistake isn't directly your fault, you should treat it like it is.
The Golden Rule
The Golden Rule is something I think about in my own business every day. Two of our customers recently got confused using our software, thinking they'd signed a deal when they hadn't. I thought back to how I was treated by the valet and knew that's not how I wanted my customers to feel.
While we weren't directly to blame, we made it right. The customers made a mistake with our software because they're human. Therefore, we treated them like humans and showed we're human, too.
After the sting of any mistake fades, your response will linger the longest. It's okay to give people something to talk about, as long as it's how well you treat them in good times and bad.