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Managing information

Di Antonio Caneva, 17 Novembre 2003

To optimise the use of time, which is a very limited resource, I often meet people I need to discuss business with during my lunch break. On those occasions, I invite my guests for lunch at a restaurant near my office, run by a family from Puglia, where they cook fish with great skill. It is a pleasant place, the people are friendly, and having become a regular guest, I find a homely atmosphere.
On Tuesday I was there with a young couple, and we ordered one of the recommended dishes – spaghetti with anchovies. Quite unusually, the spaghetti had been overcooked, so when the owner asked me if the dish had been OK, I could not help making that remark. The restaurant owner is generally a calm and kindly person, but that time he reacted with irritation, blaming me for having eaten the food instead of sending it back to the kitchen. I observed it would have been an overreaction, but he insisted that you should not complain about food without sending it back to the chef, so that he can become aware of any mistakes. These statements embarrassed me, particularly because they were pronounced in a loud voice in the middle of a crowded restaurant and in front of my guests, and inspired me to reflect on a few things.
The best way to have the pulse of business is by being receptive to customers’ remarks, but customers – by definition – do not form part of our organisation, which makes it necessary to tactfully establish the conditions for communication to flow. In the case I described, on the contrary, the conditions were set for me never to say a word if a similar situation should arise again, which involved that the owner would not become aware of any dysfunction in his restaurant.
On a more general level, we often find ourselves faced with questionnaires that we are requested to fill out to provide feedback on a hotel or travel experience, but because of the way they are phrased, we – as customers – feel discouraged from filling them out. We should not forget that the relationship with a customer is based on the supply of a service, and it is arrogant to just expect some feedback on it: it will depend on the customer’s willingness and the ability to ask for it in an acceptable, respectful way. Even the best structured questionnaire will not be of any use, if people do not know how to communicate and listen, if information is not managed appropriately, and no trust relationship is established between people.

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