PizzaWhen I was in college, I was one of the first front-of-house team members of a brand new pizza joint in Chicago. It was great at the beginning. The pizza was excellent, my coworkers were cool and the tips were pretty good for a brand new BYOB restaurant.

Looking back, I think the best part about the job was something I didn’t even realize at the time – it taught me an important lesson about startup communications:

A little bit of humility goes a long way.

While I was pretty happy slinging pizzas there, there was one thing that really irked me about the manager, who also happened to be the owner. He just adored the word “I” while accepting praise from our customers. He took sole credit for everything that was good about the restaurant when in reality, he was usually locked upstairs in his office doing who knows what while us lowly front and back of house staff cooked the food, served the customers and ran the restaurant.

And while he was quick to take credit, believe me, the moment a customer had a complaint, he busted out the “we.” “We’re sorry you didn’t like your food.” “We’re sorry the kitchen is backed up.” “We won’t do that again.” Instead of personally taking the blame for a patron’s poor experience and saying, “I’m sorry,” he constantly spread the blame to the staff.

His habit of accepting credit while deflecting complaints caused problems in two areas:

First, customers appreciate it when an owner personally takes the blame for a mistake instead of passing the buck onto unseen employees. Accepting blame makes the owner seem more like a human being who genuinely cares about the customer’s experience.

Second, it created distance between management and staff, a Me vs. Them environment. While it is certainly not a requirement that business owners and their staff be best friends, it’s imperative they recognize that any new company’s employees are working incredibly hard and deserve positive recognition.

It is important for owners of any new business, whether a pizza joint or a startup, to accept praise humbly and acknowledge that their success was a team effort. Conversely, when experiencing moments of customer displeasure, the onus is on the owners to accept responsibility.

The end result? Customers will appreciate that honesty, sincerity and humanity, and  employees will feel appreciated and work harder than ever.