Don’t be so sensitive

It was a great radio commercial for a bank in a major market. It brought a smile to the faces of everyone who heard it – even jaded advertising executives. The message was on-target, reassuring, and powerful.

And after it had aired for a week, a panicked bank president pulled it. You see, he had received angry phone calls about it. Two of them, in fact.

At one point in the commercial, a toddler refused to set foot on an escalator, whimpering, “I’m a-scared.” It’s a situation most parents recognize, which is why the spot connected so well with listeners.

One caller was aghast that the bank would allow a child to use an expression as ungrammatical as “I’m a-scared” in its advertising. The other scolded the bank for doing a grave disservice to society by making children fear escalators.

“We don’t like it when people are angry with us – or even when they disagree with us – and we’ll go to great lengths to sidestep those confrontations.”

Yes, those were the exact complaints the bank president received. And in a market with literally millions of radio listeners, those were the only two complaints he heard.

We humans are funny animals. Most of us crave approval as much as we need food, water and shelter. We don’t like it when people are angry with us – or even when they disagree with us – and we’ll go to great lengths to sidestep those confrontations.

Unfortunately, that trait often leads us to overemphasize the negative feedback we receive. I’ve seen it happen innumerable times in business settings. A company will make a key decision about advertising or a product or service based on a negative comment from a very small group that really isn’t representative of the overall audience or target.

I’ve done it, too. For several years, I ran an annual event for a non-profit and sent out a follow-up questionnaire to the volunteers who helped. Every year, we’d receive a slew of compliments – and two or three scathing complaints. And every year, I’d obsess about those complaints and vow to fix things the next year. Finally, I realized that if only two percent of participants were unhappy, 98 percent thought we were doing a great job. So I stopped sending out the questionnaire.

It can be tough to remain confident in the face of complaints, but if you’re convinced that you’re taking the right actions and have made the right choices, you shouldn’t blink. It’s okay if everyone doesn’t like your product or your advertising. If even 10 percent of people don’t like your new commercial, it means that 90 percent still do, and I’d rather cater to that 90 percent than fret over the small group.

I’ve worked with other organizations that received complaints about ads. Even some who were willing to create a bit of controversy to draw attention to their companies. They recognized that some people who saw those ads would never do business with them, but they also knew the complainers weren’t going to be customers either way. In most cases, the customers they desired enjoyed the messages and were supportive.

If you’ve made the right decisions and your products, your advertising, or other business activities support those decisions, don’t be afraid to stay the course. When the inevitable complaints come in – and believe me, they will, no matter what you do or how well-intentioned your efforts – don’t panic. Tell them you appreciate the fact they took time to offer their feedback, and promptly forget about it. That’s all you need to do.

Is it good to listen to what your customers say about your advertising or other business practices? Absolutely, but only if you remember that the customer isn’t always right. Sometimes, the customer is simply deranged. Don’t be crazy or fearful enough to let those customers drive your business decisions.