Being able to inspire your clients to share their true experiences with you is critical. It’s even more important that they feel you’re truly listening.

I was excited to take some friends to one of my favorite new places to eat.

As a foodie, I love places where the passion of the craft shows up in the atmosphere, culture, as well as on the plate.

I don’t need it to be fancy; I need it to be an experience, and this spot had all the elements that were important to me.

So, I was looking forward to backing up my raves and rants with a shared experience with friends.

The dinner was…well…it was ok. They missed their usual mark on a few things that I know the owner would have been disappointed to hear about.

I know that my friends were a little disappointed because the expectations I had set were not met. Bummer. So, to my surprise, when the hostess asked how everything was as we were leaving, I blurted out, “It was fine.”

Why did I say that? It wasn’t fine. Why didn’t I let her know I was disappointed? Because I was.

Why didn’t she know that when my normally raving review was diluted into an obligatory reflex response that it should be cause for alarm?

That really bothered me. In fact, how I responded to the hostess bothered me more than the experience itself.

“Fine” is a death sentence.

We often use the word ‘fine’ to describe how our crappy day was, to tell a co-worker that their substandard report is good enough to send to the boss, or to praise a woefully deficient dining experience to an insincere hostess.

‘Fine’ is most often not fine. ‘Fine’ is often the single word that means, “I’m likely not going to come back.” We all know this; I didn’t just teach you anything you didn’t already know.

But, I have two questions for you:

  • Why do we say things like ‘fine’ reflexively when it’s not true?
  • Why don’t we go on high alert when our customers describe our deliverables like that?

Why do we use that word?

Why do we tell someone ‘fine’ when they’re soliciting feedback about our experience?

The fact is that we don’t always do that, so the real question is what’s the difference between when we do and when we don’t. It boils down to two simple things:

  1. Because you don’t think the solicitation is sincere, and…
  2. Because you don’t think that the feedback you’re taking time to provide will be received and inspire meaningful change.

Wow. Think about the last time you used that word reflexively when someone asked you about your experience.

Was their request sincere? Did they REALLY want your feedback or did it feel like they’re just going down a checklist of things they’re supposed to say?

Was it a person that could even process or critically assess your feedback? Probably not, and that’s why you said ‘fine’. How about the second point.

Even if the request seemed sincere, do you think that your time to discuss your dissatisfaction would induce actual change?

Or do you think that you’ll just be seen as “another whiny customer” with a list of complaints?

Do you think the feedback will actually make it to someone that cares enough to really do something about it? Probably not, and that’s why you said ‘fine’.

So, now what?

You need to take this into consideration when you’re soliciting customer feedback or facilitating customer satisfaction surveys.

Your people need to be trained to identify tepid or inert responses and not allow you to be lulled into a false sense of security.

Keep the following in mind when you’re soliciting customer feedback.

  1. Your process must be built with a sincere intention to discover how the client truly feels.
  2. Your people must understand the value of that process and its intent; they too must be sincere.
  3. Clients that don’t respond to your request may need a call from an executive sponsor who highlights the sincerity and importance of their feedback.
  4. ‘Fine’ isn’t an answer that means anything.  It is likely their answer your bad question. Don’t ask closed questions; open-ended questions are key to start a meaningful dialogue and honest feedback.

Being able to inspire your clients to share their true experiences with you is critical. It’s even more important that they feel you’re truly listening.

It lets them know that they’re important to you. It lets them know that you ‘get them’. It makes you more likable while showing them that they’re important.

It helps build trust – especially when their feedback induces measurable and positive change.

About the author

Jason Eatmon

Jason is a Nebraska native which is where his work ethic and sense of…

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