Back to School: When Smiling Doesn’t Equal Happy

The new school year is underway, and that means new experiences for everyone. Our daughter, firmly entrenched in the Terrible Twos, is adjusting to a classroom with no sippy cups, regular potty breaks, and more rules than she knows what to do with.

How is she adjusting?

Her daily status reports tell the story quite well:


That’s our daughter in a nutshell. Happy and uncooperative.

To some, that may seem contradictory. It’s hard to think about a two-year-old being uncooperative without thinking of tantrums, screaming, or pouting.

Not her.

She’ll ignore you, disregard your instructions, even outright defy you, all with a smile on her face and a spring in her step.

Of course, two-year-olds are complicated, difficult creatures. But guess what? So are the rest of us. There are some parts of being two that we (thankfully) outgrow, but being complicated isn’t one of them.

This matters a lot when you’re trying to understand your customers.

Case in point: I was checking out of a hotel a couple months ago after a family vacation, and struck up a conversation with a woman in front of me. When I say “struck up,” I mean she turned to me with a big smile on her face and said “I’m so happy to be checking out of here, I’ll be thrilled if I never see this place again!”

Apparently her vacation wasn’t as fun as ours, and she wasn’t shy about letting me (a fellow guest) know about it.

That big smile never left her face as she signed her bill and walked out the door. She didn’t mention anything to the staff at the desk, no complaints or grumblings, just walked right out. Happy to never return.

Is that fair? Of course not. We all want our customers to be happy. If they’re not, we want a chance to fix what’s wrong. And even if we can’t fix it for that particular dissatisfied customer, we want to know what’s wrong so we can keep it from happening to someone else.

But there’s nothing about a dissatisfied customer that guarantees he or she will be a vocal customer. Some grin and bear it, others suffer in silence. On the other hand, your most vocal complainers can be your biggest fans and most diehard loyalists.

In business, we don’t have the luxury of waiting until someone hands us a piece of paper with “happy” circled. So if you want to know whether your customers are satisfied, don’t wait for them to tell you.

Just ask.


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