Failure: What to Do When Your Best Effort Falls Short

Failure is a part of business. In spite of our best efforts to plan, manage, oversee, adjust and avoid the worst, sometimes things just don’t work out.

As a leader, your response when even Plan Z isn’t an option defines your brand and impacts customer relationships for a long time. It’s not fun being the decision maker when that day arrives, but it comes with the territory and it’s a chance to shine.

A Case Study in Facing Failure

A day like that came recently for the head of LaVida Massage when a planned technology transition didn’t work out. The email I got from Peggy Davis, President and CEO of the company, reminded me of a post I wrote a few months ago about How to Recover When You Can’t Deliver.

When it comes down to it, there are days when you must admit failure and do what’s right for the customer. That could mean scrapping a project, backing out of a product roll-out, canceling a promotion or even recalling a product. All stomach-turning decisions when you’re the one in charge.

Although I didn’t speak to Ms. Davis personally about what happened at LaVida, I can glean a lot from the message I received as a customer. Let’s break it down and I’ll explain what LaVida did right when things went wrong (my comments in red):

Dear LaVida Massage Guest: (personalization would have been nice, but this is fine.)

As you may know, LaVida Massage recently made significant changes to our online and App booking experiences.  Our hope was to provide an improved customer experience for you, through an easier and more streamlined online booking process. (The changes were launched with good intentions.)

Unfortunately, the new system has not lived up to our expectations and has caused many of you a fair amount of inconvenience, significantly hampering your ability to easily book online with us. (A frank admission of failure and acknowledgement of the impact. It’s clear this hurt business, so there’s a shared sense of pain. Not sugar-coating it adds credibility to the message)

As a result, we have made the decision to restore our original online and App booking system – the same one that you have used in the past. We will notify you when this change is complete so you can update your App and bookmarks at that time. (It was so awful, they’re going back to the old system until things can be sorted out. She’s providing more assurance and comfort to customers: the system is familiar, so they won’t have to adapt to anything new while they’re already frustrated and unhappy.)

I would like to extend my sincerest apologies for any inconvenience these changes may have caused you. (A simple apology goes a long way.)

If you have any questions or need assistance at any time, please feel free to contact our Corporate Office or your local LaVida Massage owner: (A list of locations and contacts follows. Hopefully all the franchises were informed of this messages before it was sent so they could prepare for any inquires.)

Again, I would like to apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused (this second apology isn’t necessary) and would like to thank you for being a part of the LaVida Massage family. Please know that we truly value and appreciate your business. (Thanking customers and showing appreciation reinforces that LaVida wants to maintain the relationship.)


Peggy S. Davis
President and CEO
LaVida Massage

All in all, this is a pretty good mea culpla. What more could they have done in the face of this project failure? Just a few things:

  1. Personalizing the email would be helpful, as noted above. If they have clients’ names, it would be nice to use them in a situation like this.
  2. If LaVida had data showing a customer did, in fact, have a problem, offering them a discount on a future service would offer further encouragement to come back.
  3. Finally, offering a time frame for when the old system will be back up would remove uncertainty that could erode customer confidence.

The take away here is that LaVida did something difficult, but clearly in the best interests of their customers. They admitted failure and pulled the plug on the planned transition, rolling back to what was familiar and functional. That had to be an expensive decision, especially if the new solution needed to be completely abandoned. But it’s much better to go back to what works than to force customers into changes that are clearly making things more difficult.

In making the tough call, and by being frank and open with customers, LaVida wins points for putting customers first. I’m sure they also considered the bottom line; there was undoubtedly financial pain for franchise owners losing traffic before corporate made the ultimate decision to step back from their plans.

The quest for profit is best fulfilled by serving customer needs first and foremost. LaVida took a big step in that direction with this challenging decision and their candid response.

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