Be direct. Be transparent. Honesty is the best policy, right?!
We aspire to these ideals as people and as entrepreneurs, and we naturally hope that our customers will be honest too. Quality feedback for our idea, product or service really can go a long way. It helps us to improve and to grow. It shouldn’t be that hard to get...right??
Well, unfortunately, it’s harder to get the truth out of people than we would like to think.
Some form of lying is all too common in most organizations, says author Ashkenas in his article “Why we don’t always tell the truth”. Mission statements are often liberally embellished with key words like “integrity”, yet the impact of the truth on ourselves and on others can often be unclear. Even our own degree of responsibility taken for a mistake can be fuzzy, as our minds automatically search for justifications and excuses to absolve us. It’s human nature. We don’t want to “rock the boat”.
But why is that? Why do we continue to default to this behavior when pure logic, our moral standards and as well as the above mentioned ideals clearly dictate a different behavioral choice?!
Looking more closely at the forces at play here, we find out that our avoidance of the truth goes beyond emotional discomfort. It encompasses physical pain as well.
UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger discovered that certain social situations - such as the feeling of being excluded from a group - can trigger the same pain centers in the brain just like real, physical pain would. Together with her team, Eisenberger conducted an experiment on social exclusion and found that two key areas of the brain appear to respond to the pain of social exclusion in the same way as physical pain. She theorizes that this reaction may be linked to our evolution as social animals and the importance of social bonds for the survival of our species. These reactions go back tens of thousands of years and still hold true today: social distance from a group leads to death for most infant mammals.
"These findings show how deeply rooted our need is for social connection," Eisenberger said. "There's something about exclusion from others that is perceived as being as harmful to our survival as something that can physically hurt us, and our body automatically knows this."
Maybe if lawmakers were more aware of this connection, they would have chosen the more suitable term "physical distancing" instead of “social distancing” in order to get their message across during the covid-19 pandemic…
Anyways… if the truth can lead to upset people, and upset people are more likely to exclude us… it looks like our motivation for speaking the truth can be easily jeopardized.
When we want to validate a new business idea, we depend on relevant market feedback to find orientation and to know which steps to take. Yet here we are with the scientific backing that proves that simply asking a question and hoping for a 100% honest answer is unlikely to get us the truth that we seek…
Good thing we can still apply a few strategies to encourage people to dig deeper and supply us with a more truthful opinion of our product or service:
Don’t underestimate human nature and our drive to avoid pain, exclusion and social discomfort. Remember that these are the exact same unpleasant reactions that truth can evoke. Make it as safe and as beneficial as possible for your customers to provide you with real feedback…and you may get the truth that you seek.
Just remember to pick up and brush off your bruised ego after you’re done! Because regardless of how much we may praise and idealize transparency and honesty the reality for us socially-wired human beings is that…the truth can hurt.
The good thing about digging deep enough to extract the truth about how your customers perceive your offering is that you end up with two actionable outcomes:
1. You learn that you are, in fact, on the right track and just a few tweaks will enhance the perceived value of your solution.
2. You learn what you need to adapt (= pivot) in order to create a more suitable offer for your market.
Remember: The best feedback for a product or service is revenue!
Hence don't be shy, make offers and let your customers show you the money.
P.s. If you want to dig even deeper into the art of customer interviews, we can highly recommend reading "The Mom Test" by Rob Fitzpatrick.