There is an old off-color joke about an uncultured, farmer’s daughter from the backwoods who lands a scholarship to a finishing school.  On her first visit back home, she is asked by a group of her friends what she had learned.  She proudly announced that she had learned to say, “Well, I do declare” when what she really meant to say was “bulls- -t!”


It made me think of the customers who sometimes tell service providers polite white lies when what they really mean to say is the exact same sentiment of the farmer’s daughter. Candid customers are worth their weight in gold because they provide information based on the truth and a perspective that can lead to insight for service improvement.  But, how do you get customers to “cuss” instead of just blowing smoke?  One powerful approach is priming the pump.


The expression “priming the pump” has real meaning for people who grew up in a rural area in the fifties.  Located in the most rural backyards, water pumps required priming to function. You literally “seeded” water from the ground by pouring a large pitcher of water into the top and then pumping madly up and down on the handle. To a young child who thought that on-demand water only came from a faucet, “water making” — wringing water out of the earth by your own efforts — had a special magic.


After asking the customers for feedback, listen carefully to the depth of their response.  If you sense it is too socially correct rather than raw, unfiltered truth, mention something you know needs improving to seed the response followed by another effort to encourage frankness.  It might sound something like this: “I know we could do a better job with our choice of healthy appetizers, what else could we improve?” or “The wait time for an operator is something that frustrates me and I know we sometimes make customers wait a bit, what did you like least about your experience with us today.”


Ken Blanchard referred to feedback as the “breakfast of champions.”  His rationale is this:  service providers are blind to details that only customers see.  Without their help we have irritants that hold us back from serving at a champion level.  We cannot correct what we do not know about.  Get your customers to communicate beyond the “Well, I do declare” and give you a forthright dose of “bulls- -t!”