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Why Honesty Really is the Best Policy, Even in Business

Originally published on Fast Company on February 13th, 2015

Show me someone who isn’t facing challenges of one kind or another at work, and I’ll show you someone who is lacking in self-awareness. It’s a situation that, at one time or another, we all have to face—whether we’re at the frontline of an organization or in its C-suite.
So given that we all struggle with some aspect of our work, the choice we have is in how we handle those struggles.
Our natural inclination is usually to avoid talking about problems. When this happens, problems often stay unaddressed until a manager, leader, or board member might have to pull you into a room to tell you something is going seriously wrong.
There’s a better way of dealing with work challenges—and though the strategy sounds obvious, it runs counter to our intuition. That strategy is proactively highlighting your own challenges to your teams and supervisors.
It’s something I rely upon to deal with challenges as they emerge. I used it recently with respect to personal challenges that I am facing at Medallia. I walked into the president and CEO’s office, explained what I was struggling with, why, and how I planned to improve.
Essentially, I started my own performance review with my boss—and the experience was positive.


The approach has several advantages. It instills confidence in the person you report to that you’re capable of identifying problems and doing what’s necessary to fix them—far more so than if you’d waited for her to bring the issue up. It can also help you recruit your boss as an ally to help you fix the problem. And it’s evidence of your commitment to delivering results rather than preserving your reputation.
What’s interesting, though, is that this philosophy doesn’t just work for relationships at work. A similar approach can work well for companies in their relationship with their customers.
It can be easy for companies to ignore problems related to their customer experience. Many don’t admit to mistakes until they’re forced to—and when they do, their responses can be perceived by customers as insincere. Even offering refunds or free service to dissatisfied customers can feel more like bribery than a sincere admission of wrongdoing.
Compare that to when companies proactively own up to their missteps—it’s actually much easier for them to get customers on their side.


Using this strategy is easiest when you have insight into your customers’ experience across their entire journey. This allows you to not only fix problems with individual customers, but to dig into the root causes so that they don’t happen again.
When customers share a complaint, they’re usually not aware of the broken process or inefficiency that caused the problem. But by revealing you’ve gone to the trouble of figuring out why a problem occurred, you demonstrate that you’re willing solve the problem—not just put on a band-aid.
This proactive approach can also impress customers who haven’t spoken up about issues. Most of us have gotten apologies of some sort from companies that fear losing our business. However, an unprompted explanation—accompanied by a real solution—can feel more sincere. Having real-time insight into your customer experience enables you to identify customer pain points before they become endemic.
Taking proactive actions to identify and improve gaps in your performance—as an individual or as a company—can be intimidating. But, it’s a great way to establish trusted partnerships with co-workers and customers alike.

Photo credit: Danielle Scott

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