How To F@&!K Up and Thrive

Over the last week, one my businesses really fucked up. The product simply stopped working. Here's how I thrived in the midst of a big service fail.

I have a business called August & Wonder that makes a magic seesaw. It's a table-top sculpture made of brass and wood of a bull and a bear on a seesaw. It's internet connected and it moves in real time with actual changes in the stock market (11 global indexes and 5 cryptocurrencies to be precise).

It's a limited edition and sells for $1,100. Financial pros love it. It's a little bit of magic in their offices that tells them at a glance what's going on in their world. You can see what it looks like here.

Last week, it just stopped working. Owners received messages that their selected index was not available. Ugh.

Then the emails started coming in. "What's going on?" What's the ETA for a fix?"

The tough part was I didn't actually know. Nothing had changed on our end. No firmware updates or app updates, and it wasn't immediately obvious where the fix was.

It took us a week to get things back online.

In a day or two, we figured out the issue, which required a firmware update. No problem, I thought. But then we hit a sneaky bug in the firmware update that could have "bricked" people's devices if we had released it. It took the next six days to find, fix and test that.

Finally after running some test users through the firmware update, we were able to release to all of our customers, and everybody was back online

It was a nerve-wracking week. Our product was entirely offline. Other than bricking people's devices, this was pretty much worst case scenario.

But as I look back on it was actually a huge win.

First, it was amazing to get a ton of emails from customers who were wondering why their products weren't working.

Wait, what?!! How is it amazing to get a bunch emails from customers wanting support with their broken products.

Because it showed they cared about it. (In fact, I had people telling me how much they loved it and missed it!)

It would have truly been a disaster if the product had gone offline and nobody cared.

Second, and more importantly, it gave me an opportunity to deepen my relationship with my customers.

It's easy to take for granted good customer relationships when everything is running great.

But the deepest customer relationships actually get forged when stuff goes sideways. This was true when I was in B2B Market research software, and it was true this past week. When people realize you are there for them when something breaks or isn't right, they will love you even more.

When customers wrote asking what was going on, I personally wrote back within minutes.

As I realized we had a bigger problem, I started communicating with transparency to all of my customers.

I (as the CEO) wrote to all my customers and said, "We're having an outage. We're still figuring out what's going on, but we are on the case. I will keep you updated."

Each day, I would write another message letting them know the progress on the issue, and giving them some background on how everything works, and why it was taking so long to get this fix right.

I made it clear that I wouldn't release a fix until I was totally confident in it.

I actually heard from customers I'd never heard from before(they bought through channels vs direct). Some people wrote and said "way to hang in there, we love this thing, can't wait for the next one."

It was pretty amazing, actually.

That's the importance of understanding that relationships are the fabric of every business.

When you realize this, even spectacular fails can become incredible wins.

Until next time,


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Steve August
March 4, 2022