The Delta regional jet was packed. As the flight backed away from the gate, the flight attendant began her ritualistic safety spiel about seat belts, 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 because the company CEO hid nothing. Toyota is getting hammered because they did the opposite. And, JetBlue and Toyota had sterling reputations before their visits to PR hell.
We consult with the largest wholesale auto auction company in North America. Car dealers are rarely on the “most honest industry” list. Yet, this company has a phenomenally positive reputation because integrity is more than their corporate value engraved on the wall (like Enron had at their corporate headquarters). It is a way of life engraved in the hearts and habits of employees. “The right thing to do” always trumps “the most profitable” or “least difficult” or “most convenient.”
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.”