June 27, 2012
Todd invited the student into his office and asked, “What’s the problem?” To which the student exclaimed, “Someone said I was short!”
Assessing the boy’s short stature, Todd said, “You do know that you’re short, don’t you?”
Startled by the question, the boy hesitated before responding, “Um…well…yes.”
Todd encouraged the boy to accept his height as a fact of life rather than pretend he wasn’t short or, worse, be ashamed of it. He said, “Look at me. I’m bald! It’s a fact of life. I’ll tell you what—let’s make a deal: Whenever I see you in the hallway, I’ll say, ‘Hi shorty.’ And whenever you see me, you can say, ‘Hi baldy.’ Deal?”
The boy agreed to Todd’s arrangement and, although their hallway encounters produce surprise and bewilderment from others, there hasn’t been a problem since.
What I respect about Todd’s approach is that it’s devoid of all sugarcoating. He told it like it was and, I suspect, made a lasting impression on the student.
His story also reminds me how much I appreciate it when companies I deal with tell me the truth, without sugarcoating the message. If there’s a mechanical issue with the plane and we’re going to be delayed or the cable tech is running late due to an unforeseen circumstance, just tell me the truth. Let me know what’s happening.
After the initial irritation wears off, most customers will accept the new reality and adjust their expectations accordingly. It’s only when information is cryptic or withheld altogether that many customers will become less tolerant of service hiccups and take to social media or other channels to vent.
Always communicate the truth as you know it. Customers appreciate hearing what you know and what you don’t know. Authentic, complete, non-sugarcoated communication has the power to diffuse anger, create understanding and grow relationships between people. And that’s the truth.
Illustration: Aaron McKissen