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John Frost

Expert vs. Viewers





A recent “I don’t know, what do you want to do this weekend?” conversation led to my going online to search for a handful of movie reviews.  I was surprised how different the reviews from regular folk were compared to the experts.  Two different groups of people seeing the very same movie with the only real difference being that one of the groups gets a fancy expense account to buy a bucket of buttered popcorn, box of chocolate covered raisins, and 48 ounce jumbo-sized Fresca.  

For one movie, regular viewers loved it and voted 96% positive.  The experts had a different opinion of the very same movie and cast their ballots with only 37% positive.  These two views illuminate the difference in perspective from the people on the outside compared to those on the inside.  I love the quote, “for people to see things in the same way it helps to be standing in the same place looking in the same direction at the same thing”, but this scenario indicates the differences go beyond even that.  Real people also bring different prior experiences, attitudes and biases to a situation.  

Several years ago Wal-Mart conducted a study where they asked customers (regular viewers) what they liked about the store and what could make the shopping experience better.  Had Wal-Mart simply asked their employees (their experts) they would have likely heard feedback related to their day to day duties.   LeDell and Amelia in Ladies’ Apparel might suggest fresh colors or a new line of clothing for more full figured women, Eugene and Virgil in Seasonals might suggest that Christmas decorations not be put out until after Thanksgiving because they get tired of hearing Christmas music, and Mort in Electronics might recommend that they stock fewer big screen TV’s because they are difficult for him to move around because of his recent back surgery.  

When the customer research came back, do you know the most significant change Wal-Mart made?  They went out and hired greeters for minimum wage to welcome customers entering the store.   The research uncovered that customers felt that the stores had grown so large they had become impersonal.   Wal-Mart would not have discovered this by surveying employees for the simple reason that employees don’t enter the stores in the same way as customers.  In other words, employees and customers had totally different perspectives and expectations of the simple act of entering the store.  To employees it was a simple daily routine of going to their job.  The customers, however, were deciding where to spend their hard-earned paycheck.  Same experience; two totally different perspectives.  One of these perspectives was so valuable that it ultimately determined the success or failure of Wal-Mart as the world’s highest valued company at 410 billion dollars.*  

A majority of the opinions we hear about our stations comes from the experts--the people who work there, simply because we’re around them all day.  Sometimes those opinions come second hand (“all my friends say...) disguised as criticism from listeners but filtered through staff members’ own predetermined biases.  To prove my point, when was the last time a staff member shared a listener criticism they disagreed with?  The criticism almost always supports the insider’s opinion which is why they noticed in the first place.  

When responding to complaints, remember:

  1. Only the most passionate listeners say anything at all, so you’re only hearing from one of two extremes, neither of which are representative of the entire audience
  2. Insider’s opinions aren’t objective for the simple fact that it’s their job and they therefore can’t have the same perspective as a typical listener
  3. Insiders only share the criticism that they already agree with

(You may wish to cut that out and tape it to your telephone or computer as a checks and balance for when you receive a comment).  

All successful stations have some kind of systematic and objective way of knowing what their listeners think.  Otherwise, it is like trying to run a successful retail store without checking the receipts at the end of the day to determine what merchandise is selling and what needs to be restocked.  

Oh by the way, there was an unexpected benefit to Wal-Mart adding greeters at the front door.  The shoplifting decreased.  Wal-Mart found out that people are less likely to steal from people they actually know.  Our friend Mort in Electronics would not have been able to tell them that.  

*I just made that up ‘cause I’ve been on the computer all day and I didn’t feel like looking it up.   


John is a partner in Goodratings Strategic Services, and has been a successful major market disc jockey and program director for such companies as CBS, Cap Cities, Westinghouse, Sandusky, Gannett, and Alliance during his 38 year broadcast career.  John joined Goodratings’ partner Alan Mason in 1999.