December 5, 2022

small business advice

Listen to Your Customers

Jerry Osteryoung | 8/3/2009
Part of my new job as director of Outreach Services at the Jim Moran Institute is to travel down to Fort Lauderdale every two weeks to help minority entrepreneurs. Because this requires staying in hotels so much of the time, I tried to find one that I really, really liked.

I had to kiss a lot of frogs, but I found what I thought was the “perfect” hotel. It was located in Ft. Lauderdale, just off of I-95, and it had close, covered parking that was easy without a valet, a great gym and free internet.

Over the last three months, I have probably stayed at this hotel more than 30 nights. However, during the last three or four visits, I noticed that the internet was running at a sub-turtle speed (maybe snail speed), and the hallways never seemed to get vacuumed. Additionally, I went in for breakfast one day, and all of the yogurt cups were a week outdated.

When running any large hotel or operation, problems are always going to be there, but management must continuously be on the lookout for ways to locate and fix these problems. The most critical management error is not simply having these problems, but choosing not to see or hear about them.

The last three or four times I visited the hotel, I told the front desk staff how much I really liked the hotel, but that there were these problems that were bothering me. Each time, they thanked me for bringing the issues to their attention and said that they would get them remedied. However, upon each return visit, the problems remained. I liked the hotel for other reasons, though, so I was willing to tolerate these small issues.

After the third time detailing these issues to the front desk staff and seeing no improvement, I asked to speak to the general manager. I told him of my concerns and, when he said he had not heard one word about them from his staff, I mentioned how many times I had spoken to them.

When I was checking out the last time, I asked the staff member — one that I had dealt with previously — why she had not told the GM about my problems. She explained that the general manager did not like to hear negative things about his hotel.

By saying that he did not want to hear any bad news, the general manager was causing valuable information about his hotel to get lost. However, bad news is really good news as the customer is giving you vital feedback about issues that are generally fixable. Choosing not to hear any bad news closes down such a critical part of running a business.

It is so important that you embrace bad news with an upbeat attitude, saying, “Yes, we have a problem, but we can fix it.” You want your staff to feel comfortable coming to you with good news, as well as bad.

Now go out and make sure that you have a great communication channel with your customers so that you can hear both good and bad things about your business.

Jerry Osteryoung is the Director of Outreach of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University, the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Professor of Finance. He was the founding Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. He can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 850-644-3372.

Tags: Florida Small Business

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