Thursday, July 6, 2017

Walking a Mile in a Grouch's Shoes

"Hell is other people." That's the famous, oft-quoted and oft-misunderstood line from existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre's play "No Exit."

It's usually thought to mean that the company of others invariably will grate on your nerves and drive you crazy. There is some truth to that (and if you don't believe me, try going on vacation with your in-laws.) But as Sartre himself explained, "That does not at all mean that one cannot have relations with other people. It simply brings out the capital importance of all other people for each one of us."

Reality is a subjective thing. As Obi-Wan Kenobi's wise ghost explains to Luke Skywalker upon being accused of lying, "Many of the truths we cling to depend up on a certain point of view."

It's entirely possible that in a given scenario, you can be 100% in the right, yet someone who disagrees with you may not necessarily be wrong. I once worked on a project for an artist who was once part of a band with a hit record. The band fractured when it split into two camps and a party who outwardly exhibited every sign that they no longer wanted any part of the band filed a lawsuit against remaining parties over a document they never signed.

From point of view of the party I knew, they didn't feel they needed the consent of someone who had completely withdrawn from the entity and no longer wanted any part of it. From the other party's point of view, they were miffed an agreement that could affect their intellectual property would be negotiated without their input. Much bitterness ensued and the end result amounted to both camps essentially losing a bunch of money to a bunch of lawyers. Who was right? Both parties felt they had a point. But neither ultimately accomplished anything except making all parties involved financially poorer while fattening the pockets of litigators. It was an unfortunate state of affairs that probably got chalked up in the music rags as the old cliché of "creative differences."

Perception is reality. If you have done your best to provide quality service and product to a customer who still has a complaint - you have done your part and you may be 100% right. However, that customer has a grievance whether real or perceived. If they perceive a grievance, it's real to them. It's worth time investigating the nature of their complaint and understanding how they are seeing the situation. Even if you ultimately find there is nothing you could've done better, there may be something you find you can change about the way your customers perceive your quality of service or food.

I can't count how many pizza operators feel they have the best pizza out there. And they may all be right.....from a certain point of view. After all, taste is completely subjective. I'll give you an example: For a variety of factors, I believe Queen's Brian May is the best guitarist of all time....but you probably have your own opinion on the matter. (Feel free to comment why I'm wrong.)

The more often you can put yourself in someone else's shoes and understand differing points of view, the more you get out of your own bubble. The wider perspective you have on the world, the better. Knowledge is power. But beware of going TOO far down the rabbit hole of appeasing cranky customers. You can only please SOME of the people SOME of the time, after all.

Ultimately, this is all marketing really is: communicating the right message to the right people at the right time. And recognizing you might be right, but still be wrong in someone else's eyes can help you refine your message, or deliver it in a different way.


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