They are never going to know…

I was at a local restaurant the other night.   It’s a Thai place near my house.  Very convenient.  Great atmosphere.  The people are very friendly.  I mean it.  The service is great.   The waiter/owner is jovial, entertaining and makes you feel very welcome.  The prices are really good.

It’s just too bad about the food.

It’s not that it’s terrible.  It’s okay.  Sort of good.  But not great.  Which is why I don’t go there often.  Who wants to go out for “okay” food when you can go another 10 minutes and get really great food.

Now, if they knew this, they might be able to do something about it.  But they don’t.  In fact, when I went in there the first time, the owner proudly told me that this was the best Thai food anywhere.  So I went in and had dinner.  One of us was wrong.  It wasn’t me.  I’ve taken other people there, and the reaction is the same.  Too bad about the food.

The crime is that not only don’t they know, but they never will.  How can you tell someone who is so out front about the food — someone who is so nice to you — how do you tell them that the food is so so.

Maybe some people can be that direct.  I really can’t.  And I suspect neither can anyone else.

I’m good if the service is lousy or the food is lousy.  I’ll complain, I’ll let it be known – I’ll leave a crappy tip.  Somehow, I’ll get the point across.  Strangely enough, when the company is a total bust, even if they hear that their service or product stinks, I wonder if they would really even care.  But if it’s just good enough? These guys have a shot at having a great place. They might be able to use the information.  With a little research, a little trial and error, they could really do well.

I started to think about this.  How could this restaurant have found out what I was really thinking?  Well, they could have invited the feedback.  They could have made it easier for me to comment.

How about if they’d served the food and instead of “is everything okay?” they’d asked different questions.  What if they’d asked, “what did you most like about it?”  “How could we improve it?”  Asking these two things would give me the opportunity to offer comments on what is good and what is bad.  In fact, it would solicit them both.  And you really do need them both.  You want to know what you should do more of and what you should do less of — or do better.

I think if things were asked in this manner, it would make me feel better about letting them know that the eggplant was nice, but a little tough.  The spices were okay, but I think that good Thai eggplant should be a little spicier.  Armed with that, they could have simply thanked me and accepted the feedback.  No falling on a dull knife, just letting me know I’d been heard.

Why? Because they shouldn’t take a data point of one.  They should gather feedback.  If they could do a mass customization, then they’d learn the range of things and be able to ask and decide.  Restaurants do this all the time for non-vegetarians.  “Would you like that steak rare, medium or well done?”  “Do you like a dry white or something a little sweeter?”  We know how to ask these questions.  Why can’t we do the follow on and ask — “What did you like?  What could we do better?  Help us get better.”

My friend Dave Howlett uses the phrase, “what’s one thing that I could improve?”  Again, he’s only asking for one thing, so it gives you permission to open the discussion.

The bottom line here is – make the customer comfortable about telling you.  Invite the comments.  When you do, you can move from good to excellent.  Which of us doesn’t want to do that?

So why don’t we do this?  Well, one reason may be the fear of feedback.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest, I really don’t want to hear negative feedback. I’ve taught myself to take it.  I’ve taught myself to not be defensive.  But it’s not fun.  I put my heart and soul into my work.  To find out that it is fallen short of the mark is not a pleasant feeling.

I had to let that go.  I don’t know any other way to say it.  It gets in the way of ever becoming excellent.

How did I do it?  I think of myself like a champion athlete.  If I was an Olympic sprinter, the difference between good and gold is a fraction of a second.  So no matter how good I am, I have to keep looking to shave off that hundredth of a second.  If I can find something that gives me half a second, that’s incredible!  Just that reframing makes feedback so much easier.

Am I fooling myself?  I don’t think so. I’m allowing myself to get feedback that I can process.  When I can process it, i can invite it.   Knowing that can make me a better coach.  And it might make me more coachable with both my peers and my customers.

We’ll see.  Love to have your comments and strategies.

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