You Don’t Need Truth Serum to Obtain Customer Candor


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Matthew Alexander is a strong critic of using harsh interrogation tactics with captured prisoners. A proponent of non-coercive methods and the author of the new book, Kill or Capture, he was a guest on the “Fresh Air” show of National Public Radio. As I was driving to a client meeting, I listened to the compelling interview with a master interrogator and 18-year veteran of the Air Force.

“The goal is to get detainees to share the truth—information that can be helpful in achieving your military mission,” said Alexander. “I started by building rapport. I always walked in with a copy of the Quran, a book I know well, and periodically quoted lines by heart. I was always respectful, humble and often acknowledged mistakes we had made as a country.”

At this point, I began to think about the parallels with obtaining customer feedback, evaluation and intelligence. Intrigued, I pulled into a parking lot and began taking notes.

“It is vital you understand your detainee to craft your approach around what you learn,” says Alexander. He spoke of designing an incentive for candor that fit each detainee. “Unfortunately,” said Alexander, “a common parlance that was said by some interrogators and analysts was ‘Arabs grow up in a culture of violence, so they only understand violence.’ …That type of stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims was very counterproductive to trying to get people to cooperate. …Those prejudices worked directly in contrast to what we were trying to accomplish.”

Unless you are a monopoly of goods and services your customers require, they are obviously not prisoners of your service. And, they have much to reveal to you about what is important, their expectations, and their experiences. Stereotyping complaining customers in pejorative terms does little to foster the atmosphere of trust needed for customers to want to be honest. The key is building a rapport (derived from the French word meaning “kinship”) and working hard to understand each customer. Walking in the customer’s shoes is vital to finding an approach to customer intelligence-gathering that enables you to accomplish your mission of delivering a consistently great experience.

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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