“NOF” Not Our Fault = Is An Opportunity

Imagine sitting in your quarterly meeting. They’re discussing your department’s performance metrics.  For five minutes, you worry, “this isn’t going in my favor!” Your mind is racing, breathing growing more rapid. Feet begin tapping, uncontrollably. Your hand is tentatively rising, reaching the side of your head. You desperately want to cut in. You badly want to plead your case, but you’re trying to resist. Suddenly, it spills out, “not our fault!”

Defending oneself from uncontrollable circumstances is a natural instinct, but we must be careful of how our response is perceived. Have you ever told a customer something is “not our fault”? Not only will this phrase escalate the conflict, but you could miss out on valuable opportunities to improve your business and strengthen the relationship.

We want to be a strong advocate, defending against uncontrollable exceptions, and it never crossed our minds that this response could be perceived as a rude interruption.  What if I told you, we just ignored a customer explaining a possible bad experience?  Have you ever worded, “not our fault” to explain a bad experience to a customer? 

“Not our fault” bluntly tells your customers, bosses, and co-workers that there is, “no opportunity found in this relationship.” Passing blame, regurgitating policy, and shirking responsibility demonstrates a lack of care for your customers. Worse yet, you’re foregoing the opportunity to learn from these bad experiences. If you give up on finding the root causes of friction and confusion, bad experiences will happen again, and again, and again. Customers want and deserve to be heard. No one likes to feel ignored, and you don’t want customers to think you’re lazy. Best-selling author Jeffrey Gitomer states, “The customer’s story is crafted by your words and deeds.” Is this the story you want customers to tell about you? 

Imagine that a customer contacts you because they haven’t received their shipment. You take immense pride in your reliability, and based on your experience it’s safe to say that the delay was outside of your control. The cargo could have been sent out later than promised, or it got stuck at an international border. It’s normal to think, “it’s not our fault the shipment is late!” The real question is, if it’s not our fault, how did we communicate that to the customer? What is the root cause of the delay, and did we keep the customer informed? Keeping customers apprised keeps them from being unpleasantly surprised. More importantly, finding the root cause of the problem allows you to prevent it from happening in the future. To find the root cause, you can borrow a concept from the Toyota Production System called the 5 Why’s. Starting with the problem, ask “why did this happen?” Repeat this step five times to determine the underlying cause. 

To help you avoid getting caught in a strong undercurrent with no lifeguards in sight, think of “NOF” as this:

  • Normalize – Resist emotional hijacking, which can disrupt your ability to think and communicate clearly. Slow down, take some deep breaths, and try to control your emotions. Remember, the goal is to solve the problem and retain the customer. Take ownership, and reassure them that while it may not be your fault, you’re in this together now. The customer may still need to vent some rage, but bear in mind that they’re just upset with the situation, not you. You’re in the same boat!
  • Observe – Listen to the customer carefully, and don’t interrupt. Humanize the conversation.  Take care of the customer’s emotional needs first. Then, use your observation to truly understand why the friction or confusion took place.
  • Find it – Find the solution and communicate it.  Take ownership! Don’t just say, “not our fault.”  Determine the root cause of the bad experience, and don’t be shy in sharing what you’ve learned with co-workers, supervisors, and managers. The only bad ideas are those that go unshared. 

There are multiple ways to look at NOF. If we take a minute before saying, “not our fault” or “no opportunity found” we’ll find ourselves more experienced in decision making and handling complex situations. Most of all, we’ll be providing an exceptional experience!


Jay Ellis is the Director of EFW Experience at Estes Forwarding Worldwide, LLC. Jay is pioneering EFW’s industry-first Voice of the Customer program. Connect with Jay on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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