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Wyoming Business Tips for Aug. 21-27


August 15, 2011 — A weekly look at Wyoming business questions from the Wyoming Small Business Development Center (WSBDC), part of WyomingEntrepreneur.Biz, a collection of business assistance programs at the University of Wyoming.

By Michael Lambert, Wyoming Entrepreneur Market Research Center manager

"I recently had a customer complain to me that one of the references I made in a conversation was offensive. What gives? Don't people have a sense of humor anymore?" Martin, Torrington

Recently, I had just finished a presentation where I was discussing the importance of marketing plans and planning to an audience of folks from the non-profit world. I thought the presentation went well and there was lively discussion at the end. In all, I was thinking this was a pretty successful day's work.

As I was packing up, two ladies from the audience, one of whom had participated in the discussion, came up to me. They were somewhat hesitant, but then jumped in to tell me some of my verbiage during my discussion was offensive to some in the room.

I was more than a little stunned. I am an experienced public speaker and I strive to never use offensive language. I apologized and indicated that being offensive was certainly not my intention and I asked what I said that was out of line.

The response was that when I was giving examples about understanding customers and their demographics, I said something along the order of "if your audience is left-handed, red-haired stepchildren, you should try to find out how many people meeting that criteria are in your service area." In this case and for this audience, a verbal crutch that I had relied upon for many years and which was intended to put across a simple point that you need to know your customer was offensive.

When I returned to the office, I went through a couple of stages of further reflection. The first was "What the heck, don't they understand that I wasn't meaning to offend anyone? After all, I am a nice guy and I mean well." This led quickly to thinking about times when what others have said hit my personal "hot buttons" and my reaction was much the same as those two ladies. I realized what I think is an important lesson.

When trying to communicate an idea or concept, or if trying to sell a person on an idea, concept or product, why take the chance that you will make that person shut down and stop listening because a phrase or term you use is offensive to them.

My "red-haired stepchild" reference seemed inoffensive to me, but one of the nice ladies who brought this up said to me, "I'm sure you had some good things to say, but I shut you out once you had offended me." This is valuable information and I'm pretty sure that I won't use that reference as an example in the future.

In today's complex and changing world, it may be impossible to always avoid being offensive, even on accident. But I think that we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our customers to try. Remember, each time you talk to a customer might be the last time if you don't work at making it a pleasant experience.

A blog version of this article and an opportunity to post comments is available at http://www.wyomingentrepreneur.typepad.com/blog/.

The WSBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming. To ask a question, call 1-800-348-5194, e-mail wsbdc@uwyo.edu or write 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3922, Laramie, WY, 82071-3922.

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