The first sign of trouble was an engine noise I’d never heard before. Second, was the flashing low oil pressure warning signal. And third, when I’d reached home at a cautious crawl, was the oil patch on my driveway.

My wife Amy and I had gone for a couple’s oil change date (how romantic is that?) at the local instant oil change joint. An hour in, one of the attendants came to us and proudly told us he had just completed his first oil change on Amy’s car. My truck was under the experienced hand of his boss, he told me. An hour longer than we had expected we pulled away, the oil change warning lights finally extinguished in both vehicles.

So, the shift manager had made the mistake of not tightening the oil plug on my truck. I manage to get my truck back to the premises, and am standing in the pit with the general manager looking up at the leaking oil drain hole. After a pause, the GM says “Mike messed this one up. I wasn’t here yesterday. I’m going to personally replace the plug and personally tighten it after I do a complete refill. Here’s a VIP discount card for all future oil changes.”

Finally, after the GM gave me his boss’s number – he’d done all he could he said – I drove away. While it looked like things would be okay with the engine (I’d had several calls with my mechanic), I was still frustrated, uneasy, and a little angry. And here’s why, no one at any point said anything approaching an “I’m sorry, we messed up.” Better still here’s what the GM could have done:

  • Don’t blame others, own it. Own it on behalf of the team and the organization. In these moments, you’re it. Take on that responsibility. It doesn’t mean it is your fault, but it is your responsibility to calm an agitated client and begin the process of
  • Acknowledge (again, without assigning blame) what
  • Empathize, empathize, empathize with the client’s situation, and apologize for the situation in which it has put them. We have such a hard time saying any version of “I’m sorry” in these moments, while the reality is an apology will frequently, at the very least, buy you time by reassuring the triggered client.
  • Set expectations on what the path to resolution will be, and stay in constant communication until resolution is reached – this is particularly critical if expectations need to be adjusted because of unforeseen circumstances. Bottom line is, bring the right caring and calming presence to the situation until the customer feels it has been resolved to his or her