That sinking feeling


Ever had ‘one of those days’?


As suppliers, we’re destined to make mistakes.

Sometimes we make really big ones.

Errors that turn our blood to ice and make us shudder to recall them decades on.

This is mine.

Rank outsider

Twenty-five years ago I was hurtling along Melbourne’s Nepean Highway with a family of four in my hideous taxi.

I’d picked them up from the international terminal.

With a four-hour window in their global sojourn, they’d organised to meet long-lost relatives in a bayside suburb.

Time was precious.

‘Leave it to me!’ I cried, flooring the accelerator.


Dream run

Having read most of Wilbur Smith in the endless airport cab queue, I was elated to escape with such a massive fare.

It was a glorious Sunday – fine weather, light winds, little traffic.

For once, the tires and engine sang.

Smiling, I watched the meter tally my burgeoning wealth.

Even the smashed gas cylinder indicator seemed to wink.

The family chattered excitedly about their impending reunion.

Lovely day for the seaside, I thought, as the sun stroked my face.

Brighton …

… Chelsea …

Funny how we inherited so many names from England …

… I wonder if they’re both by the sea … like they are here …

After 40 minutes, the wife asked how much longer we’d be.

‘Not long now!’ I replied cheerily.

To be on the safe side, I glanced at my map. Yep. Chelsea was just ten more lucrative clicks south.

‘I didn’t think it’d be this far’, she said. ‘Are you sure this is the way to Brighton?’


(We’d passed it 20 minutes ago.)

‘Yes. We said Brighton.’



With beet face and white heart, I threw a screaming 180 and backpedalled furiously.

My sunny reverie had slashed this family’s face time.

I switched off the meter and apologised ALL the way back.

The wife was chillingly silent.

The teen kids vocally hostile.

Only the husband, sitting next to me, responded to my vomitous mea culpa.

When we finally got to the restaurant, surly kin shot my tyres with daggers.

(This was before we all had mobile phones, you see.)

Completely overwrought, I refused payment and tried to make a getaway.

But the husband pressed notes into my hand and said, ‘These things happen’.

He even …

tipped me!

Despite his kindness, my massive service fail haunts me to this day.




Catastrophic service errors.

I’ve told you mine.

Will you tell me yours?

To err is human.

To comment



| Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire

  • I once made a serious error quoting a client on a file server (when I used to work in IT sales). It didn’t actually backfire on the client at all – he ended up with much more at the low price he was quoted. He was happy.

    Luckily I had a good boss who chastised me for my mistake, then helped me fix it as best as possible, without the client wearing the negative outcome. Even though this resulted in a reasonably large loss, he allowed me to do the right thing.

    But it still haunts me to this day, and I’ve always been grateful for that support, which I know is an uncommon response to that kind of situation.

  • I really appreciate your share, Stephen.

    I believe firms who give their staff room to fail are very wise. A lesson learnt like this is never forgotten. Nor the kindness of the employer. Also, if you sack a person for failing, your competitor gets the benefit of their experience when they hire them. So it makes good sense to be flexible.

    But isn’t it funny how things from years ago still niggle us?! :)

    • Friend Paul! It appears my email has died :)
      I loved your photo, but am editing on the fly, and couldn’t find it in the scramble! I can change later this afternoon for you.
      p.s. had NO idea you used to drive a taxi! What fun :)

      • Thank you, Emma. Sorry to pepper you with petulant demands. It sure would be bulk ace if you could realise my complete artistic vision later today.

        Just wait till I tell you about my time as a DJ! :)

      • Spot on, Emma! Thank you! :)

  • philip owens

    DJ? I remember the police being called to a certain 21st because of said DJ and sound system….:-)

    • Ah … I think my work experience student was on duty that night. I believe the charge was playing Kylie Minogue’s ‘Locomotion’ five times in a row to see if guests would dance every time. Apparently, they did! It was that kind of area. To my knowledge, charges weren’t pressed. :)

  • philip owens

    So my ‘learning experience’? (there is no value in mistakes, but there is in learning experiences!!)
    I once had a ‘contract error’ valued at a cool $86K which the client found. OOOPS ;-(
    It seems that the paperwork fairy had done something to the contract amendment whilst it was being sent to head office, and of course ‘out of sight, out of mind’
    Customer was going nuts. My boss at the time just said “Phil, whoever was responsible was responsible. You are the face of the comapny to that customer, you are going to have to fall on your sword”.
    I thought it was going to be tough to do, but once I got into the swing of it, I was throwing myself onto the sword with gusto.
    Great lesson. Someone has to take responsibility. I ‘contributed’ to the problem (by not following up). Authentically taking responsibility and fixing a problem can build a fantastic relationship (Arent most of our customers really scared that if something goes wrong, they will be left holding the ticking parcel? – fixing a problem demonstrates that this will not be the case with your organisation!).

    The outcome? I learned to dive onto sharp instruments for business and we recovered the situation and locked them into a long term deal!

    • Dang, Phil; you’ve certainly made some … pointed observations! :)

      You’re so generous with your experiences. Thank you once again! :)

  • Malcolm Owens

    Great post Paul, there is that sickening ‘Im in it now’ feeling when we stuff up. Certainly I experinced a few of these on the journey, thankfully more at the start of my career!

    And yes they did dance every time which is why we turned it up so loud – what fun!

    • Hiya, Malcolm. Thanks for making the transition to our new space and sorry you had some false starts. It’s beaut to see you here. Now, how do we get your smiling face and backlink sorted out?! Best regards, P. :)

  • Once, I booked a really expensive advertising campaign for a client. All ahead of deadline, material locked and loaded and congratulated myself on a job well done.

    …or it would have been a ‘job well done’ if I hadn’t booked all of the wrong newspapers….

    Is there anything more horrific than that moment when you have to admit you have monumentally stuffed up?

  • Thanks for your confession, Emma. I don’t know what’s worse: the moment you realise the error; decide you have to admit it; gear up to admit it; or actually admit it.

    Unless you’ve got a mongrel of a boss, the admission itself (or its immediate aftermath) can actually be the least of these four agonies.

    I usually find the moment of realisation the worst.