Choosing to Respond When Things Go Wrong


here are going to be times in our business or organization when things go wrong. As much as we try, there are going to be bloopers, mistakes, things that go awry, and things that are simply just out of our control.  Trust me when I say, that as a type A personality who thrives on control, organization, and perfection…this SUCKS!  We work SO hard to develop our brand.  A tremendous amount of thought and planning goes into our mission, vision and ideals that make the foundation of our business. We pour ourselves over what we want to offer our customers and we all know that it takes an incredible amount of effort to build a good reputation and it takes just ONE mishap to ruin your name.  It’s a sad truth; no matter how GOOD you are, one BAD experience can taint your brand, business and name.  The other truth is that it doesn’t matter what YOUR perception of the experience is, it only matters how your CUSTOMER perceives the experience.

Yesterday, I heard that someone was unhappy with my company. (For those that don’t know, I own private early learning/preschools/childcare centers).  While the parent didn’t specifically address her concerns with my site director or teachers, she did speak to a third party that just happened to know me personally.  When the third party heard the story of the parent’s “misfortune” with my program, she immediately told me what she heard.  So how I do I respond?

There are many options in how I could respond to this situation. The initial emotional response was panic and fear.

“Oh no!  Someone is talking bad about my program!  I’m DOOOOOOOMED”

With this response, one would most likely REACT.  Reactions aren’t always productive. It’s like a “business knee jerk” that makes a big motion, might hit the target, but rarely solves anything. The difference between reacting and responding is that reaction is a reflex, and responding is a choice. So after my momentary freak out, I asked myself, “How do I want to respond?”

I could do nothing.  Inaction is Action.  In this response, there’s absolutely zero control or attempt in saving my company reputation or name.

I could be defensive and/or dismissive. I could easily say, “well, they didn’t tell me they were unhappy so shame on them and good riddance.” Here, I blame the family for their perceived bad experience with my business.  Little control over saving my company’s reputation, but in this frame of mind, that’s their problem, not mine. (although in the long run, this is very much my problem!)

I could apologize, but then also rationalize that the parents would never be happy and no matter what I said or did I couldn’t change the situation.  In this situation, I feel a little control in that at least I tried to “own up to the mistake”, but I wouldn’t put much effort into trying to correct it.

I could apologize, offer to refund their money and hope they don’t speak ill of my business. In this scenario, I would do everything possible to show them that I accept my fault and am willing to do ANYTHING to make it right.  The downside to this is that it doesn’t open discussion to the fact that as the parents, they also need to take some accountability in communicating if they have specific needs that were not being met. It could potentially set me up to portray my business as weak.

I wasn’t really feeling very good about any of those options. I saw the potential downsides to all of them and still did not feel a great sense of “control” over the reputation of my company.  HOW CAN I RESPOND SO EVERYONE WINS? 

I had to pause and think; What is my mission?  How do I want my business to be perceived? What’s the truth of the situation? (remember, perception is different than truth; so when you look at truth you must look at FACTS) What does the parent want/need? How can I support the values of my business?

So let’s break it down and look at the problem and my intentions:


  1. Needs were perceived as not being met by customer.
  2. Although she did not directly address concerns with me or any of my staff; word of mouth damage had already begun.
  3. Customer withdrew business from my company, stating “they didn’t feel it was the right fit”.

Intention of Response:

  1. My company has a mission to provide quality care to all families.
  2. I would like the opportunity to hear their concerns and address them.
  3. If my company can reasonably accommodate their family’s needs, we would like the opportunity to make it right.


I reached out to the parent and stated my mission, requested a meeting to hear their concerns and offered possible accommodations.

Finding Resolution:

The parent was relieved that I reached out. She didn’t know how to bring up her concerns without coming off as confrontational and “nit picky” and so her choice was to remove the child from the program rather than have a difficult conversation. When she “vented” to a friend, who just happened to also know me (she didn’t know that) she felt safe to share her concerns and disappointment so her TRUE feelings came out. Thankfully, our mutual acquaintance knows me as someone who values my integrity and is passionate about quality care and felt comfortable enough to say, “you should know this happened”.

We set up a time to discuss her concerns, including her husband, my site director and the classroom teacher.  Within this forum, we were able to have a constructive discussion that allowed the parents to be heard, the company mission to be expressed and accommodations to be set that not only supported the family and child, but also aligned with my company’s values. The parents felt that we went above and beyond to rectify the situation, I took their negative perception and made it right for them while also upholding my values and the integrity of my mission and I was able to save my company’s reputation; however more importantly the child will receive the quality care that my business strives to offer! EVERYONE WINS.

Not every situation will end so easily or nicely, but the idea is to stop and truly think about how you want to respond.  What is the real message you want to give out about your business and how you handle things when bumps happen?  You ALWAYS have a choice in how to respond.  When things go wrong, what can you do to make it RIGHT?

For more information on Reaction Vs. Response, email me at

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