by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

A decade ago a prestigious law firm client of HES was concerned… as they launched an online health improvement program, they wanted to confirm the security of our approach to handling confidential information. After thoroughly reviewing our systems, they agreed to implement the program. On launch day we sent a broadcast email to their organization promoting the program and inviting employees to register by clicking a link in the email. Unfortunately, the link directed them to a different client’s website.


Naturally, neither client was pleased with the error but, as you might expect, the law firm employees were especially concerned with confidentiality given the mistake on their first encounter with the program. The good news: neither client’s data was compromised in any way; the bad news: we had to convince them of that — and fast! Here’s what we did:

  • Called both clients immediately to explain what had happened and assured them no personal data was exposed

  • Followed up with an email to both — summarizing what had happened, reassuring them the data was safe, and promising to take steps within 1 business day to guarantee no other email miscommunication

  • Drafted a participant email for our law firm client explaining the error, assuring them of their privacy, and providing the correct link

  • Sent the email in less than 20 minutes from the original email broadcast.


Lessons Learned
Mistakes happen. And when they raise suspicion about trust, it’s important to:

  • Respond immediately. Even if you don’t yet know what went wrong or how to fix it, confirm to those you serve that you’re working on the problem and are committed to maintaining their trust.

  • Full disclosure. Better to confess your sins yourself than to have others spread the bad news for you. The farther bad news spreads from the source the worse it gets; you can avoid escalation as well as reinforce your commitment when it comes directly from you.

  • Apologize and move on. Explain how the situation was resolved and what you did to prevent recurrence, apologize for any inconvenience, then let it go. If you’ve done all of the above, reasonable people will accept it for what it was and move forward.


Above all, avoid the temptation to gloss over or bury the mistake. And don’t try to make the error sound less significant than it was. The truth, however painful, is easier to live with than a half-truth.

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