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On Being Criticized

On Being Criticized

Hello and good day!

We had a critic come into our shop a few days ago. He didn't like what he saw, and he didn't agree with our business concept. The main thrust of his criticism was that we shouldn't be making family friendly products.

He didn't like the idea that we go through all this hard work to make a world class chocolate, and then we use the chocolate to make things like mint patties, or chocolate covered marshmallows, or chocolate covered caramel pretzels.

It was a very interesting criticism because the gentleman was a fan of our chocolate, but he didn't appreciate our approach. He felt that our previous model was more appropriate, putting our chocolate in the hands of professional pastry chefs who would know how to use the chocolate with the proper expertise.

As I stood talking to this gentleman, we had plenty of customers come in, including several families with kids.The kids bellied up to the counter, grabbed tongs, and started having at the free samples.

The kids who are regulars in our shop know the drill. They know they can help themselves to as many free samples as they'd like. These kids also know that they are going to get a free hot chocolate when they come into the shop. Several kids sat on a bench in the corner of the shop, drinking hot chocolate, and they had whipped cream all over their faces.

The critic looked over at the kids disdainfully.

He liked our hot chocolate a lot and thought that it should be treated with more respect. It shouldn't have any whipped cream on it.

I told him to look at how happy and alive our customers were.Why would we want the chocolate to only be served in a stuffy restaurant or in a chocolate shop that feels like an art museum.

Wasn't this more fun?

We had salsa music blasting on the Bluetooth speaker and people were dancing and laughing. The energy was youthful and a bit manic.

The critic countered that a chocolate like ours should be used to its full potential. That was the point. These kids might be having fun, but they would have the same amount of fun with a lesser quality chocolate.

Same with many of our customers, according to this fellow. They aren't connoisseurs. They were just there because of the schtick and the story, not because they understand and appreciate what they are being treated to.

I had several problems with what this gentleman was saying. I tried to keep my cool, but my blood was starting to boil a bit.Finally, he said something that put me over the edge.

He said that the people in our shop were not specialty chocolate lovers, they were mainstream chocolate customers. Specialty people would turn their noses up at our recipes because the recipes weren't refined enough.

What we really ought to do is hire a five-star pastry chef and go upscale.Now this guy was giving me business advice. I took a deep breath and tried to figure out how to get to the root of the issue.

First off, I told him that he was wrong about our customers. Experienced, long time chocolate connoisseurs do come in and we do have products for them.

They don't have to buy chocolate covered marshmallows. There is something for everybody. But in addition to that, we are creating chocolate connoisseurs.

And that is the key point.

The vast majority of the world eats chocolate that has a harmful impact on the cacao farmers who grow the cacao.

Our business is driven by three key goals.

Support our cacao farm partners by paying them the highest possible prices we can pay.

Make the best chocolate we know how to make by managing the post-harvest processing of cacao meticulously.

Serve our customers to the best of our ability and make them happy.

Thats it.

The first two goals are dependent on the third goal.We can't pay high prices to cacao farmers or make great chocolate unless customers decide to do business with us. That being the case, we must meet customers where they are.

I believe that this is something critics miss, and I don't like it. We are in the trenches every single day, day in and day out. My brother Brian answers hundreds of customer service emails per day.

Our team is face to face with customers day in and day out, serving people, seeing what they like and don't like.We buy cacao directly from 500 small cacao farms in a very remote part of the northern Peruvian jungle.

We have a lot of real-world experience. We aren't theoreticians. We have to do what works and what people like.

What people actually like as it pertains to chocolate is not a heady, intellectual experience. They want to have fun. They want to eat things that are delicious and that hit them in the heart.

People aren't usually going into a chocolate shop to do a detailed analysis and a scored tasting. All that being said, our customers do indeed enjoy a world class chocolate produced ethically.

What do you think is going to happen when those little kids go back to a Starbucks hot chocolate or a Twix? They aren't going to like it. They are going to prefer Fortunato Chocolate and they are going to end up connoisseurs through a different route.

And that creates a feedback loop that will let us do more and more good things for cacao farmers.

I laid that out for the critic, but he still didn't agree. You can't win them all. Anyhow, one last thought on giving people criticism. I am much more likely to accept criticism from a long-time customer who cares about us than a stranger with a bone to pick.

It is so easy to judge others and offer up an opinion. Talk is cheap. You can say whatever you want and then just walk away never to be heard from again.

A long-term customer who knows what we are trying to achieve and likes us and cares about us and who wants to see us have success and is offering sincere advice in hopes of making us better is somebody that I want to hear from.

And in truth, that is the context in which most criticism should be offered. Spewing unsolicited opinions on people is selfish. You are venting. You don't actually care about the person you are talking to. You just want to be heard.

If you actually want to help somebody get better, then you ought to offer a critique in a way that makes it more likely to be heard, digested, accepted, and implemented.

That takes more time, effort, and care. It is less selfish.

Anyhow, we are going to keep doing our best to make people happy and pull chocolate lovers out of grocery stores and help them become lovers of fine chocolate rather than industrial chocolate.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!