Last week, in a workshop, an attendee said that his company is ‘reactive.’ The word didn’t sound right, so I asked him to explain. I quickly realized that he meant that his company is ‘responsive,’ not ‘reactive.’
I forgot about this exchange until last night, while I was having dinner with my friend Gene Hensley in Seattle, as Gene coincidentally mentioned the contrast between the meanings of these two words. “‘React’ is to re-act,” Gene said, “meaning that you act in a way you have acted before in the past. ‘Respond’ is to act in a way that is based on what’s going on right now, in this 60 seconds.”
Imagine that you complain about the way your meal is cooked in a restaurant. A server who ‘reacts’ to your complaint will pull a canned rejoinder from his inventory of past experiences, treating your situation in a routine, recycled way. A server who ‘responds’ to your complaint will not base his response on past customer interactions, but will respond directly to what is happening to you at this moment.
I don’t think this is a subtle distinction. Your customers can easily tell if someone in your company ‘reacts’ to their situation, treating them in a routine, rehashed way. They can also tell if someone in your company ‘responds’ to their situation, treating them in a genuine, personalized, unique way.
What is better for your business, reactions or responses?