Tough love and business

Tough love and business

One of the unmentionable truths of Australian business is that we’re a glassed jawed bunch. We like to tell the outside world what a group of tough, straight-talking folk we are but in reality we can be a bit precious. This is hurting our companies and maybe even putting our economy at a disadvantage.

I was reminded of this on hearing about a new startup site called Kudosto, which will only publish positive reviews about businesses. “We’ve got to change the narrative in terms of complaining instead of praising,” founder Paul Ryan told StartupSmart on Monday.

Paul has identified a good opportunity as most businesses don’t want to hear bad news, small businesses proprietors are defensive about their babies and corporate managers prefer to live in blissful ignorance rather than being told things are going wrong. Those Net Promoter Scores always look good if the complainers and critics are ignored.

Exacerbating business’ wilful ignorance of bad news are public relations companies which take advantage of time-poor and under-resourced journalists who often lack the time to question glowing media releases coupled with a breed of feel-good bloggers who have a policy of never saying anything that can be vaguely construed as being negative.

The feel-good bloggers in particular have done real damage to sectors like parenting, travel and food where even the mildest, informed and well-intentioned criticism of a business is seen as a grave insult to the management. Dare suggest a chef should ease up on the salt, that a hotel should fluff the pillow a little more or GizmoCorp’s latest laptop probably shouldn’t try to lead a double life as a tablet computer and a writer risks being branded a ‘hater’ and banished to the PR black lists forever.

In fairness to the bloggers, the thin skinned nature of Australian business has seen all major media companies successfully sued by aggrieved restaurateurs upset at a food writer’s observation their lobsters were overcooked. For bloggers without the resources of a News Limited or Fairfax the consequences of that are frightful, so it’s little wonder most play it safe.

Unfortunately for Aussie businesses, the sharp sting of well-meaning and constructive criticism is essential to understanding what’s not working and how things can be done better. In a protected and insulated 1950s economy – something some parts of Australian society aspire to take us back to with a depressing degree of success – it was possible to tell disaffected customers and critics “that’s yer lot, love. Take it or leave it,” but in today’s globalised world that’s become impossible.

A community where every child wins a prize, critics are ostracised and complaining customers ignored risks breeding a culture of mediocrity. It’s hard to be among the world’s best if you aren’t prepared to listen to informed criticism or unhappy customers.

Today anyone can get on Facebook or Twitter and criticise your business in a way undreamt of a decade ago, so having a thin skin is a dangerous liability for proprietors and managers. It’s time we grew a thick hide and started listening to our customers and critics.

Paul Wallbank is the publisher of Networked Globe, his personal blog Decoding The New Economy charts how our society is changing in the connected century.


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