#TBT: What Would Mark Twain Say About Feedback?

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: What Would Mark Twain Say About Feedback?

Somewhere in the dusty past, I remember learning in a development psychology class that when babies close their eyes, they literally think other people can’t see them.

This is not so bad when you’re playing hide-and-seek with your daddy or mommy, but when you’re fully grown up and produce public performances for a living, it’s not a great quality.

Mark Twain once said, “If an audience do not complain, it is a compliment. If an audience do complain, it is also a compliment, provided it is unaccompanied by violence.”

In other words, open the floodgates to information from your patrons or customers, because ultimately if anyone is interested enough to comment on what you’re doing, it’s good … provided it’s unaccompanied by violence, as Twain would say.

Why then do so many organizations (inside and outside live entertainment, of course) hesitate to hear what customers have to say?

There are several reasons, none of them ultimately correct, but they are understandable. Let me see if I can help you strike them off your list:


1. People only say something when they have a complaint. This isn’t true, but maybe it just seems that way because you’re not giving people a way to make positive comments. Goldstar’s been doing real-time, unedited user feedback on our site for years, and over that time, the average rating for an event on our site has been 3.2 out of 4, which makes it somewhere between “good” and “great” in the opinions of the reviewers. Less than 10% of the reviews are strongly negative, and rare is the review that is scathing. [This post was originally published in 2009.]

2. People will get a negative impression of us if they see the comments of others. Goldstar’s Facebook page had a very negative comment on it by a customer who had a problem getting his tickets at the venue. One of my employees asked me what to do about it and was shocked with my response, which included the fact that “very occasionally, there are glitches in the process.” Well, it’s the truth! One out of 10,000 times or more, somebody has a problem, but when they do, we jump on it and deal with it. In my experience, acknowledging that problems sometimes crop up, but that they’re the great exception to the rule, is far better than pretending to be perfect, because if you’re doing that, you’re not fooling anybody.

3. People say unfair things. It’s true. They sometimes do say unfair things, even inaccurate things. Imagine how the president (any president, not just the current one) feels! At least half of everyone in the country is pretty much mad at the president at any given time. Lincoln was one of the greatest figures in history, but he got abused mercilessly by people who thought they knew better. But here’s a good rule to live by: If you’re going to be big, you’re going to cast a shadow. You can’t avoid the fact that some people will be antagonistic to you or your work. Deal with it openly and move on. Remember, as long as it’s unaccompanied by violence, it’s still a compliment.

4. I’m just too sensitive to hear criticisms of what we’re doing. Hmmm, then maybe being in live arts and entertainment’s not for you because the way this business works is that you stand in front of people and do your show or play your game. Not to be mean, but this is just a question of maturity, at whatever age you’re confronting it.

5. I want to control the conversation. Step 1 in controlling the conversation? Build a time machine. Step 2? Go back to 1985. The conversation will not be controlled. Sure, you could take your show off Goldstar and stop the comments from coming in, but you can’t do anything about Yelp and the dozens of other places where it’s happening, and you shouldn’t try. Just because somebody says something negative or “off message” doesn’t mean you’re in trouble. In fact, it means somebody cares enough to waste their time talking about you. Learn from it. Accept it as a tribute.

So there you have it. I believe I’ve knocked out all of the major reasons why you as the producer or performer of live arts and entertainment wouldn’t want feedback pouring in from every opening in the building. It can only help you if you embrace its nature and its value.

And if you don’t believe me, surely you’re not going to disagree with Mark Twain …

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