Telling Clients What They Want to Hear
It’s our job to deliver bad news as well as good news, right? To tell clients what they’re doing wrong so they can fix their problems and leap to the next level of profitability, right? Why would they spend money collecting data if they just wanted to hear how much customers love them? In fact, why would they want to hear how much customers love them, if the research says otherwise?
A recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests some answers that may surprise you. There are situations in which good news can be far more useful to the recipients than bad news, even when bad news is presented constructively with specific ways to improve. We cited this research in a recent post, “Tell Me What I’m Doing Wrong,” which was about the best kind of feedback for clients to give vendors. But the implications go in the other direction as well: when you have a client who wants evaluation research or customer satisfaction research, what kind of feedback is best? Quoting again, from the research article:
“Novices are more likely than experts to seek positive feedback on their strengths and alter their behaviors and attitudes when they get such feedback, whereas experts are more likely than novices to seek negative feedback on their weaknesses and alter their behaviors and attitudes when they get this feedback.”
So when it comes to organizations or business groups, some clients need and want to hear what’s working and what they’re doing right. It helps them define effective strategies and build organizational commitment to those strategies. Other clients need and want to hear what’s wrong. It helps them improve upon strategies already in place in order to reach goals to which they are already committed.
The idea of telling clients what they want to hear to has gotten a bad rap. Most want to hear news and information that helps. Sometimes it’s good news that helps and sometimes it’s bad. Either way, great research moves beyond best-practice-boilerplates to deliver insights tailored to exactly what can help. Whether it is good news or bad, that’s exactly what clients want to hear.