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Truth? You can’t handle the truth.

by | Sep 14, 2015 | Daily Life

While we all like to think we speak our minds, truth is we don’t and for a business owner that can make life real difficult.

Iam a creature of habit. I like going to familiar places to eat, where they know my name, have my drink ready when I walk in and treat me like a friend. Most of these places also know that as part of my work I am critical of what I see and experience, and that when I give a criticism or suggestion it is intended to help them become better…because I want them to succeed.

When I go to other places for the first time, it never fails that some time during the visit, I will be asked by the server if everything is okay with my meal. Usually the question is offered in a hurried, ‘not-really-interested-in-what-you-say” sort of way. And often this interaction is done with the server operating in a “bomb run” fashion where he or she never really comes to a stop. Now, if everything about the experience was above my expectations then the answer is a simple yes, hopefully spoken in time for the server to hear it before their airplane maneuver sends them on their way.

But what if something about the experience is not great? What should I as the customer say? Will it matter telling the server anyway? Would I get somebody in trouble if I complain? Will they think I am a pain in the ass?

These are all common thoughts that pop into our head when faced with the decision to speak up about something we are not happy about. And while to some it would seem obvious that the proper course of action is to speak up and get what was promised or expected, that is often not what happens. Usually, the reply to that server is a somewhat uncomfortably forced “everything is fine.”

But why?

Most people just don’t speak their minds when they think it will create confrontation or cause somebody else trouble, or make them look like they are being too picky. It is judged to be easier to finish the experience, put on a happy face and then leave. But those people will not stay silent for long. In fact they will express their feelings to their friends and families, and even relative strangers, on blogs, and social media sites, and anywhere else they feel the urge to share their experience.

And that creates major problems for the business at the center of attention. Not only are they being talked about negatively in a viral environment, but they are likely to not know anything about it. In the mind of the restaurant owners, for example, they assume that the customer left happy and therefore they must be providing a great dining experience. But they’re not and it is only a matter of time until their business begins to suffer because of it.

So what is the solution?

Well, this is an occasion where both business and customer must work together to make the experience a better one in the future. Customers need to express their dissatisfaction in a non-threatening way, focus on specifics when possible, and be fair-minded in their assessment.

Business owners must actively seek out opinions AND be willing to take what they hear not as an attack on their work, but as an opportunity to make themselves an even better business. They need to put the customer at ease by telling them that all opinions are welcome and that a negative comment doesn’t make the customer look critical or put somebody’s job at risk. (There are many ways to present this to customers, and you need to find the way that makes most sense for your type of business). Finally, customers need to know that taking the time to explain what their experience was like will not be a waste, that in fact the business will use that input. (A follow-up procedure to keep customers informed as to what changes their comments led to is great way to share this information and create loyal customers).

Without such a give and take between business and customer, organization and member, or government and citizen, the likelihood of achieving a rewarding experience is very unlikely. This not only leads to business failures or shrinking city populations, it also creates a great dissatisfaction in all of us, as we are left feeling that our opinions don’t matter and our satisfaction is of no importance. This type of apathy and mistrust can have far reaching implications beyond just a simple interaction between customer and business. They can affect our ability to be a better society, and as such we all need to work harder at being more interested in the opinions and feelings of others while also not being afraid to express our own opinions.

As you can see, there is a lot about this topic to discuss, and over time we will, but I am at a new Italian joint and my entree has just arrived—

“Wait, that isn’t what I ordered. And is that a fly in the sauce? I’d like to speak to the…”

Robert Westfall

Robert is a writer, behavorial researcher and decision-making consultant. He is the founder of Instinct, a firm specializing in helping organizations be more human focused and planet conscious.  You can learn more about his work at www.TheHumanInstinct.com and follow him at twitter.com/WeAreInstinct

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Remember when things just seemed to work? Yeah, neither do we.

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