Finding Value In Mistakes

Posted by

J.C. Penney has been around since 1902 when  it first opened as the Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer, Wyoming.  It now has over 1,000 stores, known for filling the retail needs of Americans all over the country.  J.C. Penney built his retail business on the Golden Rule because he believed you should treat others the way you want to be treated. 

Lately, J.C. Penney has been embroiled in controversy and internal battles.  They lost market share and revenue.  But according to, what they lost most was a connection to their customers.  Making a mistake is one thing, but learning from it can be a valuable experience.  It’s even better if you can learn from the mistakes of others.  You can learn how to avoid mistakes and make better decisions without having to go through the trauma and expense of making those mistakes yourself.

When a company makes a mistake, they should apologize to the customer, right?  Wrong.  J.C. Penney changed their brand, and then apologized to their customers when they didn’t like it.  Customers complain for any number of reasons.  Saying you’re sorry may make you feel better, but does it really help the customers?  Some customer service reps feel uncomfortable, even dishonest apologizing for something they weren’t personally responsible for.

“I’m sorry,” sounds nice enough, but it’s a canned response, and customers aren’t always won over.  Saying, “I regret the situation…” is more honest, realistic and believable.  What happened is regrettable.  Get on with fixing the problem, which is why the customer called in the first place. 

What does the customer want?  Many companies have customer service processes, complete with flow charts and scripts designed to guide the service rep and the customers to a predetermined conclusion.  They predetermine what the customer wants and almost force them into one track of the flow chart resolution process or another.  Listen to the customer.  What you think they want may not be it at all.  Companies spend a lot of time and money “fixing” problems by offering discounts, refunds and free products that the customer never wanted.  Many customers call the service center to inform the company of a problem so that they can fix it before it happens again.  Treat customers as part of the team.  Instead of saying, “I’m sorry,” start saying “thank you.”


There is an old saying something like, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Customers who contact customer service often witness  a company so divided that they wonder how it stays in business at all.  Customer service reps go through their script and process and come to a conclusion.  The customer objects and wants to talk to a supervisor.  The supervisor comes up with a different solution, giving the customer what the service rep said wasn’t possible—a full refund.  The customer then receives her next billing statement, and instead of a refund, she gets double charged.  Customer service has to be orchestrated, each person and department working together.  If the players seem disorganized, customers can lose respect and go somewhere else.


J.C. Penney survived for over 100 years by following the Golden Rule.  A few mistakes and lessons learned can make them and your customer service experience even better.


Photo Source:


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch