From Supt. Ricca: Correcting Mistakes w/Kindness

by | Mar 24, 2023

By Brian G. Ricca

I try to be a thoughtful gift-giver. I like to give presents that are unique and not necessarily expected. So for Valentine’s Day this year, I gave my wife a simple piece of jewelry: a silver four-sided pendant with Our Boys’ first and middle names and their birth dates. Except I made a mistake. I put the wrong year on one of the birth dates. 

I did not catch it on the website, where it asks you to confirm the engraving is accurate. I didn’t catch it when said website asks you again to confirm before you enter your credit card information. I didn’t catch it before I clicked “Purchase” and made sure it would arrive by Valentine’s Day. Nope. I missed all those opportunities to correct my error. 

My Bride caught my it though when she put on her gift. “Ricca, they made a mistake.” Even My Wife thought I was careful in my work. I looked, and sure enough, the birth date for Our Youngest was wrong. I found the email receipt for this product, thinking the company must have made a mistake. I was wrong. I entered the wrong birth date. I blew it. 

Still, I had to make it right. So I emailed customer service, explained what I did, and waited to hear back about the next steps. I figured, at least, I would have to return what I purchased and would be expected to pay for the new product. After all, it was my fault. 

The first response I got back asked for the order confirmation number and some details about the purchase. Next, they wanted a picture of the pendant, specifically the side with the error. I dutifully sent all this along and waited to hear more. I was shocked when I read the company’s following message to me: 

I have double-checked your order, and it seems that your jewelry was produced according to your original specifications.
Typically, in cases where the jewelry was produced in accordance with the information the customer provided, any changes are subject to a 30 percent  restocking fee. 
Since our goal is to serve you well and for you to be satisfied,  I have received approval to create a new piece for you,  free of charge. 

My response demonstrates how unexpected this was: 

Thank you for the follow-up.
Are you serious? That is entirely very kind of you and your company! It was my mistake…
Do I send the other piece back to you? 
Sincere thanks!

Now the skeptics will say this is a company just trying to get a repeat customer. Perhaps. This was so entirely out of the blue I literally did not know what to say. The “Are you serious?” in my message was authentic. This one act of kindness made me think of two others that had happened recently, where people had gone out of their way to do something nice. 

The first was a car dealership that chose to pay for our rental car when our insurance days for the rental had run out. The dealership still had our vehicle because the parts needed for the repair were unavailable. I expected that when the thirty days for the rental ran out, as our policy specified, we would have to cover the cost. Instead, the woman handling our repairs said, “It’s not your fault. It’s not our fault. But this is the right thing to do!”

Lastly, while eating at one of our favorite restaurants, the server brought over an appetizer we had not ordered. When I pointed this out, the server said, “We are just so happy to see you, we wanted to give you something in appreciation.” We already are repeat customers there….

I started this post by writing about a mistake I made that was corrected with kindness. More than kindness, really. It was corrected with generosity. Maybe that’s too much to ask? If so, I hope we can correct mistakes with decency and humanity. 

Education is about learning and growth for everyone, students and adults. We learn and grow from many things, including our mistakes. The hope is that once you make a mistake, you don’t make the same one again. And when we make new mistakes, we want them to be corrected with decency and humanity. 

Maybe even with kindness. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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Forever Gifts

Forever Gifts

Above: Father and son Robert Houghtaling and Bob Houghtaling in 2011. My dad was a paint salesman....

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