You can’t handle the truth!

by Terry Gault

During a recent conversation with David, a client, we were discussing giving feedback to service providers online.  David noted that he uses a developer in Malaysia (or was it Singapore?) for an app he wanted to build.  He said this developer (Let’s call him Sam) to be “the best developer he’s ever known”.  Recently, Sam asked David to give him some feedback using a numbered survey.  He gave Sam a 5 (out of 5 possible) for every category except for Responsiveness.  David acknowledged that since he is likely to be one of Sam’s smallest clients, he was not put off by Sam’s sometimes-slow response to emails, etc.

Ironically, within 5 minutes, David received an email from Sam, asking, “I have failed you.  How can I make it up to you so that you can give me a 5 on Responsiveness?”  Though David was hesitant to increase the rating to 5 because he didn’t really expect Sam to change his habits, he increased the rating anyway.  In a sense, he was no longer being authentic with Sam.

This experience parallels 2 recent experiences I had with suppliers and service providers I have used.

In April, I used AirBnB for a family trip to Florida for a family wedding.  I booked an AirBnB place to stay for the weekend.  When I posted what I felt was a pretty generous, measured and fair review for a mediocre property, the host blasted me on AirBnB.  She included distorted facts and exchanges as well as flat out fabrications to try to paint me as “obsessed” with minor issues and a nit-picky perfectionist.  In addition she posted an incredibly inappropriate and insulting personal attack through AirBnB’s Private Feedback channel.  I find it pretty revealing that my review of her property no longer shows up in her profile.

The second experience involved a purchase on Amazon using a third-party supplier. As a Prime member, I always look for 2-day shipping and it was available in this instance.  I’d ordered a replacement battery for my Dell laptop and the supplier sent the wrong battery.  It was a hassle to have to ship it back, of course, and the supplier offered to send a replacement once they’d received the incorrect part.  This didn’t work as I needed the battery right away.  I ended up having to order the full-price battery from Dell and pay them a significant up-charge for 2 day shipping.  When I posted feedback for the supplier that accurately portrayed my frustration, they called within hours to 2 separate phone numbers asking that I remove the negative review.  While they offered me discounts or a free phone cover that I didn’t need, I was still not satisfied with the entire experience.  In fact, I would NEVER knowingly do business with this supplier again even though I relented and removed the review.

David and I bemoaned the lack of authenticity and usefulness of a feedback system that is skewed to only provide ‘positive’ feedback.

The Henderson Group has been successful precisely because we have always provided our clients with candid feedback.  My mentor once cautioned me about being too polite in workshops sharing a comment on an evaluation form that was tattooed in his memory: “I felt the instructor was holding back.”

This candid feedback from a client has helped reinforce a key element of our philosophy – that we are committed to providing our clients with candid feedback.

In some of our presentation workshops, I make a point that when we don’t give truly candid feedback, not only do other participants miss out on an opportunity to learn and improve, we are sending another message, as well.  I play the classic oft-quoted line Jack Nicholson bellows in A Few Good Men: ‘You can’t handle the truth!”  Participants chuckle, clearly grasping the point.  If we aren’t candid with others, we are telling them we believe they are unable to handle the truth.

My experience is that my clients hunger for genuinely candid feedback because many of their company cultures place more value on getting along and being polite rather than delivering candid feedback.  Granted, many people don’t know how to give candid feedback in a way that can be heard without damaging the relationship.  We coach our clients on how to do this and have even developed entire workshops on how to coach employees and give feedback.

I know that our services have been shaped by the feedback we receive from our clients.  In addition, it is usually the ‘negative’ or constructive comments that have driven the greatest changes.  Without them, we would be throwing darts in the dark, hoping to read our client’s minds as to what we can do to improve our services and value.

Let this blog post be a cautionary tale for you, our readers, that when you start to hear only praise and compliments and shut out the ‘gripes’ or ‘complaints’ from those you serve or interact with, you are making yourself vulnerable to competitors who relish hearing the brutal truth from their users and customers.  That brutal truth helps them to correct course and stay on track to serve their customers effectively.

In short, if you can ‘handle the truth’ you are better positioned to survive and thrive!

YouTube / Movieclips – via Iframely

photo credit: IvanWalsh.com & Mathew Ingram

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