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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

The Tale of Vacation Tuna

Are you hearing what your client's aren't saying?

For fifteen of the past twenty years, I spent a week each summer on the Isle of Palms in South Carolina. It is as beautiful as the name would suggest, and I enjoyed getting to know every inch of the area. A few years back, a new seafood restaurant opened on Sullivan’s Island, just a quick five-minute drive away. Eager to shake up the routine, I loaded up the family and prepared to indulge in some good, low-country seafood.


After reviewing the menu, I decided I wanted something fresh and relatively healthy – a seared tuna steak. I did, however, have a few questions, which led to the following exchange with the server:


Server: What would you like?

Bill: I have a question: Is the tuna sushi grade?

Server: Sushi grade? I don’t know what that means.

Bill: It means I’ll have the grilled chicken.

It wasn’t that my palate was so high-tone that I would only eat sushi-grade tuna. It also wasn’t that the server didn’t know whether the tuna was sushi grade or not. The real issue was that the server didn’t share any information, attempt to get more details from the kitchen, or even offer alternatives sensing that I wanted fresh seafood. Had she told me she knew the tuna was caught fresh that morning but was unclear if it were sushi grade, I would have gladly ordered it.


When a client asks you a question, and you shut down the conversation because you don’t have the knowledge to answer, you are doing nothing more than the server at that seafood restaurant. As you build relationships, engage your clients to truly understand what information they are seeking. If you don’t have an answer, be honest about it, commit to getting them an accurate response, and deliver on that promise. The important part is communicating genuinely so the client isn’t left to make assumptions independently.


While the grilled chicken was reasonably tasty, I really wanted a reason to try the tuna, and the server missed an opportunity to provide one. So, my real objection to the tuna wasn’t about it being sushi grade or not. My real complaint was that the server seemed so disinterested in my experience as a customer that she didn’t engage me or offer alternatives.


How often has a client wanted the more expensive (and profitable) tuna but settled for chicken because you didn’t fully communicate with them to understand their needs? Even if the common yardbird is good, they will only remember that they wanted tuna and you didn’t deliver.

The most important thing in communicating with your clients is to see the unseen and hear the unspoken.

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