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My wife and I ordered breakfast in a busy diner and the waitress returned the omelets we had ordered, except my wife soon discovered that hers had the wrong kind of cheese. Our waitress had already left our table, and was extremely busy. Linda and I were both very hungry, so she ate what she had been given, even though it was not what she wanted. So, after all of that, why did we still decide to give the waitress the same tip we usually would?

It all had to do with what happened next. When the waitress came back to check on us, my wife let her know that she had eaten the omelet, but that the kitchen had sent out American cheese instead of cheddar. The waitress immediately apologized, saying that she had erroneously told the kitchen to use American cheese and that it was all her fault, not the kitchen’s.

That waitress had every opportunity to blame the kitchen but didn’t go there. Instead, she ‘fessed up. We really respected that.

Bleu cheese omelette and hash browns

Image by Premshree Pillai via Flickr

In online marketing, that kind of honesty is even more important than in the face-to-face world. Why? Because people understand things in the face-to-face world based on more than what you do or say. They can tell if you are upset even if you don’t say you are sorry. An “Oh, no!” in the right tone of voice speaks volumes. Customers can see your body language and your facial expression. Online, they get none of that.

So, when an online customer complaint is greeted with silence, or when a perfunctory cut-and-paste answer is given, it makes a big impression. That kind of response screams, “We don’t care about our customers.” Online, people tend to assume the worst unless you go out of your way to make sure you are clear—think about the last time you had an e-mail misinterpreted just because the wording wasn’t quite right. That kind of misinterpretation happens much more online than in person.

So, it’s not enough to listen to what customers say. You must actively engage and respond to them, and do it in a way that clearly communicates that you care.

So ask yourself what you do when you’ve made a mistake with your customers. Do you admit your error and try to make it right? Or do you blame the kitchen?

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Mike Moran

About Mike Moran

Mike Moran has a unique blend of marketing and technology skills that he applies to raise return on investment for large marketing programs. Mike is a former IBM Distinguished Engineer and a senior strategist at Converseon, Revealed Context, and SoloSegment. Mike is the author of three books on digital marketing, an instructor at Rutgers Business School and a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He is also a Certified Speaking Professional.

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11 replies to this post
  1. I agree that honesty in business pay off. Its just like doing to other what you also want them to do unto you.

  2. Yes, I do agree that honesty in business pay off. Transparency illuminates what we are, and since people who patronize a particular business deserves it’s honesty.
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  3. Great little story!
    It reminds you just how much you appreciate honesty, even from small incidents such as the one at the diner you and your wife encountered.
    You can never have enough honesty in this world and when you come across it in the business world it is even more precious.
    Thanks for sharing this little, but important experience with us.

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