I do a lot of endurance races (half marathons, marathons, Ironman triathlons), which typically have set distances. Unfortunately, even with the best technology, sometimes courses get measured wrong and you end up being short or, in a worst-case scenario, going further than you intended. That’s what happened at the Urban Cow 2012, a half marathon organized by Capital Road Race Management that took place October 7th. Instead of being 13.1 miles, the race actually ended up being 13.74. That’s a pretty big oops on CRRM’s part, and I imagine it led to some confused and disgruntled racers who weren’t happy about having to run long.

To their credit, CRRM handled the mistake exceptionally well. They mailed out the following letter to the half marathon participants (enlarged version):

The letter read:

Our goal at Capital Road Race Management is to have every one of our participants leave our races happy. Obviously, we fell short at this year’s Urban Cow. No matter how many extra features we provide at Urban Cow that you won’t see at other events, it is meaningless if we can’t keep you on the correct race route.

You entered to run a 13.1 mile race, not 13.74. Please accept our sincere apology for this unfortunate mistake. We’ve produced seven previous Cowtown and Urban Cow events without a hiccup. We hope you will give us another chance for the 9th Annual Urban Cow in 2013. We are not above bribery, so we’ve enclosed a $10 discount coupon for next year’s event and a commemorative, although we’d like to forget it, Urban Cow 13.74 sticker. We hope to see you at the starting line next year and we promise no bonus loop in William Land Park. In fact, the race director has vowed to double as the lead cyclist!

Sincerely,

Capital Road Race Management

The reputation management here, in my opinion, is stellar. CRRM did the following:

  1. They acknowledged they screwed up
  2. They pointed out that they have an otherwise solid track record of putting on great events without any hiccups and that this year was an anomaly
  3. They apologized to the participants
  4. They offered to make it right by inviting runners to come back next year and do the correctly measured race with a $10 off coupon
  5. They printed some amusing schwag for this year’s participants

Point #5 is what really impressed me. Instead of being embarrassed by their mistake, CRRM embraced it and printed “13.74” stickers with the pun-tastic tagline “An udderly long half marathon.” It shows that CRRM has a great sense of humor about the mess but are still willing to make things right. If I were an athlete who ran this year, I’d be both amused and impressed with the race director’s customer service and handling of the situation.

Bigger companies should learn an important lesson from CRRM: own up to your mistakes and make things right with your customers, but you can also have a bit of fun along the way. When your customers see that you have a good attitude in negative situations, they’re more forgiving and will likely see you in a more positive light.