If you can’t say something nice…

19093545 I had dinner with some friends the other night and I arrived first.  After about 15 minutes of alone time, the waitress finally came over proceeded to tell me that they had over-filled her section and she was swamped.  I assume that she told me this to explain why she had not stopped by until now. 

We didn’t get great service as you might expect.  But we did get an extra helping of TMI!

Do you do this?  Do you share information with your customers or clients that they really don’t care to hear?  If you don’t, my guess is that your employees do.  They don’t mean to undermine your company – they’re just being friendly or trying to over-explain.  But the damage is done, none-the-less.

Here are some classic "over sharing" remarks that can really tarnish the way a client thinks of your organization:

"Yeah, he’s so forgetful.  (Or disorganized) But somehow, he always pulls the project through."

"We are so buried with work, I don’t know how we’ll get it all done."

"We’re always worried about machine #1.  It’s constantly breaking down."

"You’d never know it, but they really can’t stand each other.  It’s a wonder they can work on the same team."

You know the expression "ignorance is bliss?"  Your customers do not want to hear about your problems.  All is does is cause them to doubt your capabilities and wonder if perhaps your competitor has their act together more than you do.

I’m not advocating lying or even spinning the truth.  If there’s a problem on their project or product, by all means, tell them.  Full disclosure.

But do not air your internal dirty laundry.  Make sure you and your employees understand the difference. 

10 comments on “If you can’t say something nice…

  1. “But do not air your internal dirty laundry.” — D.M.

    Drew, I agree! The goal is to take away all worry and concern during the transaction. That makes for great transactions.

    If I’m the customer and everything is going well with the transaction but you’re a little stressed out…I don’t want to know about it. Keep that stuff to yourself. I’m paying you top dollar to make me feel at ease and confident that my transaction is going to go through spick-and-span.

  2. Alanna says:

    This is really tricky in a social media world – what is the difference between dirty laundry and transparency?

  3. arthur says:

    It’s all true Drew. But don’t you think its helpful to distinguish between airing dirty laundry and transparency. We all have bad news to share from time to time. One option is to keep a buttoned lip and wait for the problem to go away. That can work. But it can also contribute to a lack of trust. Don’t you think that sharing the bad news (the server’s down) or whatever is better than letting the customer swing in the wind?

  4. Kenneth says:

    What’s TMI?

  5. I think both Ricardo and Alanna bring up good points with respect to dirty laundry and transparency. To further the discussion I would content that generally speaking dirty laundry is an excuse. Nobody wants to hear an excuse, just fix the problem and make the transaction as smooth as possible from your end.

    Transparency boils down to a genuine explanation. If there’s a legitimate reason, or even if there’s not I want to know WHY you haven’t filled my water glass. Granted, it might not make a difference at that point, but a.) knowing you’re aware of the problem and b.) taking action to fix it is definitely a start.

    Most of the explanations you gave tend to be excuses, but me, I want to know why that waitress hasn’t made it over to my table, provided that it’s genuine and comes off as such.

  6. Ricardo,

    Explaining to a client that something has gone off schedule or isn’t according to the plan is important. Blaming it on an internal disagreement or using it to take a shot at a co-worker who has let you down is not.

    I think there’s a very fine line but an important one.


  7. Alanna,

    Agreed, it is a fine line. I think the difference is…one is factual. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten over to you yet, we’re a little short staffed. But if they add….because my manager doesn’t know how to schedule properly…now we are at the “not my problem” stage.

    One is an explanation from the standpoint of what a client needs to know. The other is complaining about something the client never needs to know.


  8. Arthur,

    Without a doubt, you tell clients what they need to know. But if you look at the examples in the post — they don’t need to know you think one of your co-workers is lazy or that the team doesn’t get along.

    That’s you venting a little or taking a shot to make yourself look better. That’s not about the client at all.

    Do you think?


  9. Sorry Kenneth — that’s proof that I live with a teenager! TMI = too much information.


  10. Ryan,

    That’s a good distinction — an excuse is usually blaming someone or something. An explanation is simply updating the client and keeping them informed.

    I think it really boils down to intent. That seems to be the distinction we need to keep an eye on.


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