Like the founders of Silicon Valley’s Intuit, my dad started Malachy Parts and Service in a kitchen. In our case it was the kitchen of our little New Jersey apartment that also served as our office. My mom would play “office sounds” on a tape recorder in the background when she answered the phone with, “Malachy Mechanical,” to create the perception of a busy office. And we all know that a busy office is a successful office, right?
The paradox of business is that you must work hard every day even though it’s often customer perception that determines success. Too many businesses are knocked to their feet with an online review that says something like, “I didn’t feel like she cared if she got my business or not,” or “He didn’t seem to take my questions seriously.”
Yeah, in addition to investing in the best employees, state-of-the-art equipment, focused marketing and excellent customer service, you have to attempt to control customer perception. And remember, your perception of excellent customer service might not be your customer’s perception of excellent customer service.
Managing perception is no easy task. A single person’s perception is based on his or her individual experiences. Fortunately, no business has “everyone” as a customer. If you haven’t realized that yet, I’m sorry to be the one who broke your heart. The sooner you embrace that truth, though, the sooner you can hyper focus your perception management efforts on the people who are your customers.
Even more good news: the people who are your customers generally have shared experiences. Let’s say that, in general, your customers’ favorite boy band was N’Sync, they’d rather eat fast food than anything off the menu of a four-star restaurant and they’re happy with digital – they don’t need paper checks or confirmations and they’ve never purchased a vinyl record, 8-track tape or CD. Not the easiest base to work from, but stick with me as you create a perception that could win them over.
Fortunately, you won’t need to play busy office sounds when your phones are answered. But if you were given choices for on-hold music, choose music from an era that reminds your customer of happy times. You will also want to make sure your customers can access communications on their phone or laptop. When they call to check on an order, they will need to flip through their emails to find the confirmation number. They will not be able to find it on a document you sent to them because I guarantee they don’t know where that document is.
Researching your customer is a first step and I know that wasn’t everybody’s favorite part of sixth grade. But this digital tool called Google (by the way, happy 21st birthday, Google) makes it pretty easy. The payoff for doing your homework is big, though. You can be both the company you think you are and manage your customers’ perceptions to be the company they want you to be.
You’re not selling out if you invest time in managing your customers’ perception of you. Call your efforts branding, use your marketing budget or label it customer service if you need to manage your own perception. But buy in to the idea that perception is reality and managing perception can lead to faster and greater success.