Ok, I had to pass this blog post on…we certainly have talked about this in our office and among other agency owners…not the part about speaking in front of audiences, and perhaps boring them to death…but being upfront and brutally honest with clients, even when it means possibly loosing the work. I think we would be more successful in leading them to positive results. I love the client that gives you the opportunity to really tell them what is needed, to do creative workshops to address all the issues, not just a small piece…kudos to them, and for the others…Well, I’ll try and work on this for 2011.
It’s not every day that I can say that I know exactly how Steve Martin feels. But reading about a recent incident involving the noted comedian, author, and musician had me shaking my head in empathy.
Martin was being interviewed at New York’s 92nd Street Y, a prestigious venue for lectures and interviews. During the conversation about Martin’s recent novel, presumably sensing that the audience was not engaged in the session, someone from the 92Y handed the interviewer a note: “Ask him about his interesting career.” The audience applauded loudly, and the rest of the interview covered more popular aspects of Martin’s work. This was surely difficult for Martin, to have his interview derailed so abruptly and publicly. (Later, wit still intact, he posted an offer to erase any signatures from books he signed at the event.)
The incident brings back memories I have of a certain event. I once gave a presentation to a room full of executives about the importance of listening to customers. Rather than simply talking about the listening process, I brought an audience member up on stage to walk us through their customer experience, live: an unscripted, authentic depiction of how they used a particular service day-to-day. The plan was to run this session, then one more audience member after that, to give the executives a taste of how customer-centered “listening labs” quickly begin to reveal significant patterns and learnings.
I never got that far. Now, the first session went great. The first respondent showed his customer experience with the service, pointing out both positive and negative aspects, as they occurred. The audience was strongly engaged, responding with laughter, groans, or applause, depending on the moment. A slam dunk, I thought.
Immediately after I thanked and dismissed the first respondent, and prepared to call the second respondent on-stage, one of the organizers scurried on stage to hand me a note. “Go to wrap-up.” They wanted me off stage, and fast. I was confused and a little concerned: was there breaking news that they needed to announce? Why cut short a lively, engaging session?
The reason became clear when I left the stage and the organizers called a coffee break. The head organizer, a senior executive, marched up to me – visibly angry – and told me that the general manager of the service featured in the listening lab was in the audience, and might have disliked hearing negative comments about the service. I explained that the session design had been specifically requested and approved by the organizers, but no matter. The existence of any negative feedback was grounds for immediate termination of the session.
A followup email from the organizers later made an even stronger case, saying that “the audience was a bit too enthusiastic in pointing out [the service's] failings.” Even the audience was culpable, apparently, by enthusiastically observing a real live customer experience.
It’s clear that the senior executive wanted to see a customer on-stage giving nonstop praise to the service. In the world of press releases and corporate spin, negativity is the enemy and must be stamped out. Even more dangerous is the loss of control of the message.
What made the executive most uncomfortable, I think, is a simple lesson. Customers will tell the truth, if you ask them to. Depending on your perspective, that’s either the most disturbing or the most valuable possibility: that someone will tell you the absolute truth about the product or service that you create. Being open to that truth requires losing “control of the message” and, yes, being ready to hear the negative alongside the positive.
As for my own experience being handed the note – much like Steve Martin got his on-stage note recently – it’s painful, but I know it’s not about me. I’m just the messenger. The real question is, do the people in charge want to hear the truth?
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source: Good Experience