Owning up to snafu pays off in goodwill

It could have been a disaster.

Instead, a local HVAC company’s holiday card mix-up turned into a public apology and an A+ for honesty.

Jared Wittman has been on the job six months as the marketing manager at Cardinal Heating & Air Conditioning in Sun Prairie. The 36-year-old company wanted to bring more value to its Cardinal Care Club, an annual maintenance program for HVAC services, and Wittman was leading the charge.

As phase one of a multiphase effort, he suggested a goodwill effort to mail holiday cards to about 1,800 customer homes around Dane County. He was excited to work with a Minnesota printer on the project and a marketing plan had been in the works for several months. Wittman, 34, approved several proofs before giving his final approval and was particularly jazzed because the printer had the capability to turn a basic font into a very convincing cursive, hand-addressed envelope and note.

Cardinal’s holiday cards were mailed out last week, and all appeared on track until Friday morning.

“We got a call at 9 a.m. from one of our customers that they had received a card from us with the correct address but addressed to the wrong people,” states Wittman. [Full disclosure, this writer was on the list.]

“After the sixth customer call, I realized this wasn’t a fluke and we had an issue.”

In a Houston-we’ve-got-a-problem moment, Wittman called the printing company as they both checked their lists — twice. Meanwhile, calls and emails began streaming in from Cardinal customers who were mostly concerned they would be opening someone else’s mail.

It didn’t take long for the printing company’s owner to explain the snafu, as Friday became a very busy day for Wittman. “I had options,” he says, “but I just decided a video would be the best way to explain to what happened.”

By 3 p.m., Cardinal emailed its Cardinal Care Club members to apologize for the error and invited them to view a 46-second video from Wittman, with holiday music playing lightly in the background:

“This holiday season, we really wanted to do something different by sending you a holiday card. Everyone is still going to get a card, but there was unfortunately a mix-up at the printer we use. Our cards are going to the correct addresses, but some of them are addressed to the incorrect people. I’m terribly sorry about this mix-up. If you get a card in the mail, please just go ahead and open it. Thank you again for being a part of our Cardinal Care Club, and we’re very happy you’re a part of the Cardinal family. I hope you have a great holiday season.”

The online comments from customers were positive and reassuring.

Business professionals know the value of crossing t’s and dotting i’s, and for many what Wittman endured last Friday morning could have been a nightmare for a young marketing manager.

Instead, when asked what his reaction was when he first realized that there was an issue, Wittman says calmly, “it was disappointing, but it’s OK now. I think doing the video was the best way to handle it and I’m glad people were OK with it.” The company did not receive any negative comments, he reports.

I am a firm believer in customer service, something that, in my experience, can sometimes seem as rare as a handwritten note. I also believe great customer service should be recognized, especially in this pay-it-forward society when many companies are hanging in the balance.

So, kudos to Cardinal Heating & Air Conditioning for doing the right thing and owning up to what could have been a goodwill effort gone wrong. Wittman could have done nothing, but by being truthful and eating a little crow for lunch, customers took it with a sense of humor and thumbs up, based on the emoji factor.

Personally, I don’t know Jared Wittman. Frankly, I don’t know much about Cardinal Heating & Air Conditioning either, other than the fact that they show up twice a year to keep our heating and cooling systems in check. I do know that it is certainly not the only business with employees going above and beyond to provide excellent customer service throughout Dane County and beyond.

But last Friday, after receiving an envelope addressed to another customer in the mail and rushing to open my computer thinking I’d call Cardinal to alert them, it was both surprising and soothing to know I had been beaten to the punch with an email in my inbox from the company titled “Holiday Card Mix-Up” with a link to Wittman’s video.

There it was front and center. Not only was I impressed with the speed of the company’s actions, but still holding the unopened envelope still in my hand, I couldn’t wait to click on the message.

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