Are You Looking the Right Way?

I once ran a conference for 200 people. One of the attendees didn’t like it and asked for his money back. I was sad.

Later that same week I went out to lunch with a man, an accounting client, the CEO of his own business. One look at my face and he wanted to know what was wrong. I told him about the one.

He was totally amazed. He said he never expected to please more than 50% of any room, let alone 99.5% as I had done. What on earth was the matter with me? Why was my focus on the one and not on the 199?

Where’s your focus, on the one or on the 199?

The thing about the 199 is that we take them for granted and they are often a very silent majority. Not many people write in to say thank you when something goes well (although some do and we could definitely decide today to be that sort of person). I can still remember to this day one historic evening in about 1987 receiving a call from a client who was “just ringing up to say thank you”. I nearly fell off my chair and I told her so. It may even have been a first. Thankfully, not the last.

Of course, people do write in to me to say thank you. I don’t expect it, but it is lovely when it happens, perhaps the more so for being unexpected. It very definitely is not a requirement.

And I try to remember to do that too. It’s why I told them at the Passport Office last Friday that the whole experience had been efficient and pleasant. They had honestly amazed and delighted me. I’d never been there before, no idea what to expect and it was better than my imagining. So I said so. I didn’t even care that they might think me a weirdo, I am used to that. I even relish it.

We appear to live in times when if you don’t hear from someone it probably means everything’s OK, but where dissenters are very noisily vocal (and all over social media in a hearbeat) if it’s going wrong. And we are fragile enough already about putting our head above the parapet so this is hardly encouraging, is it? Or even elegant when it comes to sorting out a problemo.

The disaffected are noisy and the grateful are silent. So how are we supposed to get the balance right? How are we supposed to keep looking in the right direction, in the direction which makes us feel good and reinforces our sense of self, in the direction of the 199? How are we supposed to understand and know the truth and be aware if those who love us won’t say, and we don’t either?

For sure there are ways. You can ask for feedback after anything you do, whether it be a course or a book, a workshop or any kind of live event. You can ask people to fill out your survey online although I am always somewhat wary about those until you actually ask them for money! It is too easy to hide behind anonymity with an online survey. Like being in your car, being online makes you feel braver than you actually are in reality, for some weird reason. We feel protected by the hardware all around us.

I suppose all we can do in the main is keep on keeping on, looking in the right direction, keeping our eyes on the 199, hugging to ourselves the lovely things that people say and trying to sort out problems with the 1% if and when they arise. They do say that how you handle that one can be a marvellous thing for your business if you get it right; you have the potential to turn them into a raving fan for life. Happily we don’t get very much practise at that so we aren’t very good at it, but I have strategies if you need help:

  1. Start by giving them a good listening to. It all flows from there.
  2. Avoid being defensive, if you can. At least in front of the dissenter.
  3. Some people you won’t ever be able to satisfy, and that’s all there is to it.

We could take a leaf out of my Marmite-y client’s playbook and do our best to please at least half of the room, stop trying to please all of the people all of the time ‘cos there’s an impossibility if ever I saw one. People’s reactions to us and our stuff is infinite in variety. All we can do is offer it up and do our best and try to take their temperature as they consume.

If it turns out they don’t like it, we can refund promptly within our robust Ts and Cs, whilst loving and appreciating the silent majority, for they would appear to be our raving fans.

Strange old world, isn’t it?

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