What’s not to like?

“We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found them quite frightening and unknowable,” said Penny Curtis, senior researcher at the University of Sheffield which questioned 250 children aged between four and 16.

This piece of not-so-shocking news caused some sniffles from huge red noses this week. I was surprised they actually needed to conduct a survey to confirm what we all know. Clowns at best aren’t funny and at their worst are as scary as any image straight from the depths of hell. Look at this guy to the left. What kid at a birthday party wouldn’t mistake it for the angel of death?

Later in the week the clowns fought back by citing the charitable work they do worldwide—particularly at hospitals. It’s hard for me to write that with a straight face but I’ll concede it’s probably true. I have never seen an actual clown in a hospital nor would I care to if I had to undertake a stay at a hospital. But maybe that’s just me. When I’m sick, I don’t like visitors regardless of costume or shtick.

A smart clown will learn something important from the survey and thus gain a significant edge on competing clowns. If the customer base speaks, listen and be prepared to change.

Businesses are more likely to defend a behavior or policy rather than change. Convinced they know more than the customer, businesses are often caught off guard by a rapidly rising new competitor who has simply provided what the customer wanted. It looks so brilliant and innovative when it happens. Starbuck’s didn’t invent coffee nor Krispy Creme the doughnut. The key is flexibility. If you aren’t willing to change, some clown is going to knock you off.

Let’s be concrete. What should a smart clown do? A smart clown would ask some kids what they think of his look and act. And if the kids say he’s scary, he should try to eliminate the fear factor. It gets tricky here because your market cannot tell you what to do. The market place only knows what they want after they see it. The only help our clown will get from his survey is the message to change. He’ll have to figure out the next step. And he may need the courage to change a dozen times before he finds the right combination for his audience. This is a lot smarter than arguing with the survey results.

I hope you’re not clowning around at your business because this is going to be a very rough year. Don’t let pride prevent you from hearing what your customers want, even if they’re only 6 years old.

Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog
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