Managing Expectations When Things Go Wrong

Every business deals with customers and customers are people. They’re emotional, sometimes irrational and always unpredictable. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong.

I had an experience recently that illustrated how this can happen to anyone.

Even Google Screws Up

Google AdWords is the advertising arm of Google and generates a large majority of Google’s revenue (billions/month). They have a program called Google Partners that works with agencies that are managing AdWords campaigns for advertisers. So in this situation Google is the business and the agencies are the customers.

There is also a premium level called a Google Premier Partner which is only awarded to agencies that manage larger dollar amounts. So these are the best customers for Google since they’re in control of lots of revenue.

Google decided to host a live broadcast to talk to these Premier Partners about how Google is helping them win business and support the advertisers. In preparation for the event Google even sent out viewing kits with popcorn and Google cups for people to use while watching the broadcast (because who doesn’t like swag).

The event was supposed to start at 3pm Eastern time, but they had some technical difficulties. The broadcast eventually started 25 minutes late and the emcee gave a brief apology about the delay at the beginning. WHAT?

This was an event put on by Google for their best customers and it started 25 minutes late. That’s bad. But the worst part was that for 25 minutes Google didn’t communicate anything about what was happening, why, how long it would take, etc. Here are some tweets from that time:


I got a reply from the AdWords Twitter handle 34 minutes after the event was supposed to start, and only after my tweet:

So how do you handle a crisis?

Crisis Management

If you find yourself in a crisis, there are some simple steps you should follow to minimize the damage:

Own The Problem

There could be a million things outside your control that led to the problem, but to your customer it’s your fault. Don’t pass the buck and blame other things. Own the problem and move on to the next steps


Tell people you’re sorry. Many customers just want to know their issue has been acknowledged and is being resolved (now AND in the future).


This is where Google really dropped the ball. Having all their Premier Partners staring at a blank screen for 25 minutes is bad. They could have tweeted updates. They could have posted a message saying they were having technical difficulties. You just need to communicate so people are updated. If the message had come on at 3:05 saying they needed another 15 minutes, then people could have gone to the bathroom or knocked out a couple more emails. By keeping people current on the situation it empowers them to make decisions on how they’ll handle it. That control releases frustration and puts the customer back in the driver’s seat.