Humility and Incompetence

Humility is refreshing, incompetence is not.

It’s not often that people say sorry. It’s seen as a sign of weakness in many circles for people to acknowledge they have got something wrong. In a ‘survival of the proudest’ world that we live in, people feel justified to fight their corner, as opposed to own up and acknowledge their mistakes. When did you last experience someone being humble in the work place? It’s refreshing when it comes.

But don’t mistake humility for incompetence. Incompetence is not acceptable and certainly isn’t refreshing. Humility allows the space for someone to say, “I don’t know how to do that” or “I made a mistake.” But sometimes arrogance blinds people and keeps people making the same mistakes, in areas of inexperience. They may be over stretched or perform badly.

Then there’s the worst of both worlds – a lack of humility and a lot of incompetence.

I’ve experienced this in the last couple of days, when a company I have been a customer of for the last 10 years made a serious error and let me down. Now, people are human, I know what it’s like to make mistakes as I’ve made more than my fair share myself, so initially I’m always pretty relaxed and accommodating to mistakes that are made.

But it fascinates me how attitudes can make things worse. At first there’s was an apology, and an acknowledgement that a mistake was made which resulted in my website being taken down mistakenly due to problems in their systems. I was upset, but action was being taken and I knew the individuals on the phone weren’t responsible. Negotiations needed to be carried out to get them to prioritise it, as initially they said it would take 2 days to get sorted. I felt it was a bit long, and after persisting up the management chain I was told it would take 3 hours max. I was told to email the complaints manager- and she gave me his email address to apply for compensation and I felt listened to. The lady apologised and wished me well. I was grateful for her lack of defensiveness and the initial quick response, I expressed my gratitude and thanked her with the confidence it would be resolved. So far satisfactory response.

Then the wheels came off. The complaints manager emailed me, saying that it wasn’t the companies fault, and that they wouldn’t offer any compensation, but instead they wouldn’t charge me for the costs that they were facing for having to re-instate the account. I’d hardly got off the phone to the first lady, and his response was in complete contrast to hers.

The first people clearly acknowledged that they were at fault, but the compensation manager argued the case. And I wonder how many people at this stage would give up before you even started. The company hear your going to complain, so they email you first before you get your complaint in. It kind of takes the wind out of your sails. Part of me was very busy and couldn’t be bothered spending the time chasing up what would be a negligible amount of compensation, and I wasn’t in the mood to get fussed about it. But it was when the issue hadn’t been fixed after six hours I got a bit naffed off.

A simple apology- we cocked up- let’s get it fixed- I bet it must be stressful and here’s a small financial refund to say sorry would have been great. But I got the lack of humility along with the incompetence.

I then got on Twitter, and tweeted that I was having problems. I sent them a private message that I was planning to close all my accounts with them and would recommend clients onto a more reliable platform. I heard from them promptly. The situation got fixed quickly, there was an apology about ‘the lack of poor service’ and a refund offer of £50. I hadn’t tried to argue my position, but instead had spelled out the consequences and gone public on it.

It left me reflecting on why you have to kick up a more public fuss to get a reaction. I remember when there were mistakes made at my first company, generally speaking you’d react quicker to those who got more upset. But why? If there’s lots of complaints you can understand the thinking, as you have to prioritise responses based on needs and the resources you have. But if you’re inundated with mistakes, then there’s a big something wrong with the company, the product or the service that needs addressing. This is where the humility kicks in, to help you reflect and say, before we go any further, we really need to address this. But if there isn’t some overall fundamental problem, it seems that unless you kick up more of a fuss you’re not going to get the care you deserve. I don’t think that’s the way it should be?

Imagine a company that contacts you when they make a mistake, and take the initiative to make amends without being asked. They send you an email before you have asked and state that they are sorry for the mistake. They send a good refund promptly and you don’t have to check up on it. It comes as quickly as a sales invoice would come. It’s dealt with, with the same level of urgency.

Now that’s a far better way to do business. I’m sure I’m be wanting to tell others how good that company is to do business with.