Know when to keep a comment to yourself

In the past week I’ve had two experiences that reminded me that the cliché “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” applies in the business world as much as the schoolyard.

In one instance I was picking up takeout from one of my favorite restaurants. I eat at the restaurant or take a meal home from this place almost once a week, but this was the first time I noticed its frequent buyer cards (the kind where a dozen stamps earn you a free meal). I picked one up, handed it to the woman checking me out, smiled and said “Can I start one of these? I’m in here all the time!”

She took the card and stamped it, but at the end of the transaction she said “You know, your meal really didn’t qualify for this. It’s supposed to be a $10 minimum and your meal was $9.99.” Her tone was accusatory, and I felt uncomfortable. There was, by the way, no indication of the minimum anywhere near the cards, and my meal exceeded $10 if you factored in tax, but still I handed the card back to her: “I don’t need it. I didn’t mean to break any rules.” In retrospect, that seems like a silly thing to say, but that’s how she made me feel—like I was breaking a rule.

Now she was embarrassed. She pushed the card back to me and gushed “Oh no. It’s fine; it’s fine. I don’t mind doing it. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I know you eat here all the time.” I appreciated her apology, but still the whole experience soured me a bit on the restaurant, all because of a penny.

The second instance wasn’t directed at me. It was an unnecessary remark from another customer of a local running store. The store posted a note on Facebook that said something along the lines of “Surprise! We’re giving away free massages at our Logan Circle location until 8:00 tonight! Stop by!” A few people had “Liked” the post, but the only comment read “Wish I’d known about this before I left work … :-/”

It’s possible that I’m misinterpreting the person’s tone, but to me it sounded critical, as if the store had done something wrong by not publicizing the event earlier. When I saw the post and comment in my news feed, I immediately thought, “Really? Is that necessary? You’re complaining about a freebie!”

In both instances, I suppose the speaker had every right to say something. I hadn’t reached the (undisclosed) minimum at the restaurant, and that customer was understandably disappointed about missing the massage. But I don’t think that in either case the comments benefited anyone. Next time, whether you’re the customer or the customer service rep, ask yourself this question before you say something negative: “Will this comment be productive?” If not, keep it to yourself.

What’s the worst unnecessary comment you’ve heard?

[Image Source: Alan Cleaver]

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