The Delta regional jet was packed. As the flight backed away from the gate, the flight attendant began her ritualistic safety spiel about seatbelts, sudden turbulence and smoking. She ended by saying, “The flying time to Grand Rapids will be two hours…no, it will be an hour and a half…no, actually, I don’t know.” The cabin erupted with laughter and applause.
What jolted the half-asleep plane-full into cheering? Unscripted, raw honesty! We all loved her total candor and confident authenticity!
We grow up hearing “honesty is the best policy.” As adults we hear half-truths portrayed as honesty. Politicians keep secret the number of paramilitary civilians fighting in a trouble spot to disguise the true size of the military engagement–a number the public would not tolerate. The super low price loudly advertised comes with fine print describing a rebate only claimed with a pound of paper work. And, when we hear the radio ad end with a super-fast talking guy rattling off all the exceptions and disclaimers, we know we are not hearing raw honesty.
Customers love honesty…especially when circumstances might have others shading the truth or withholding the facts. JetBlue came from chump back to champ after the super long tarmac delay in Denver in part because the company CEO hid nothing and led a “tell the whole truth” PR blitz right out of the blocks. Toyota got hammered because they did the opposite. And, JetBlue and Toyota both had sterling reputations before their visits to PR hell.
Honesty shortens the distance between people. It frees customers from anxiety and caution. It triggers a connection with the humanity in each of us. And, in that space we are quicker to forgive, more tolerant of error, and much more accepting of, “Actually, I don’t know.” Honesty is not a “best policy.” Honesty is a “best practice.”