Timothy Duffy

Monday, 22 August 2005 06:06

Perception is reality

Perception is a funny thing. It is not universal; when you make decisions, you should take into account the fact that the way you perceive things is often not how other stakeholders in a situation perceive things. So whose perception is reality? The answer is pretty simple: whoever writes the check is the clear winner.

Perception is not only external to your organization, it is also internal. As a leader, you can have a direct impact on how your customers perceive your company and on how your employees appraise the quality of their work.

So let’s take a look at this dilemma through examples.

Take a homebuilding company that is nationally ranked among the best, but whose customer satisfaction survey results are significantly below where they should be. Why is that? The builder signed a contract to produce a quality home, for $500,000, on a specific date. As the date arrived, it produced a home with minimal defects, on time and at the contract price. The customer should be ecstatic, right?

In reality the homebuyer bought a home, not for $500,000 but for a half-million dollars, which to the homeowner sounds like a lot more money. The builder finished the home on time, but for the buyer that was just part of the contract. Next we move to the fact that there were minimal defects. To the builder that may be a positive, but to a new homeowner with a half-million dollars in debt, any defect is unacceptable.

From an employee/employer perspective, almost the exact same scenario unfolds. If an employee produces their work on time and with minimal flaws, this is nothing more than the employer expects. But in this scenario, many employees will expect higher ratings on evaluations.

These are merely different views of the same events. As the leader of a company or organization, the most important thing that you can do is make sure that employees know that they must educate their customers (both external and internal) about the true value of their efforts. Presentations and facts can be the tools that change perceptions. Let your customers know what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Many companies struggling with perception problems realize they are accomplishing the work; they just aren’t educating their clients or selling themselves. In the example above, the builder may be building a home with products that are well above what is required by code. Most homeowners would not know this, and would not be able to appreciate the value that is being added to their contract unless it is pointed out to them.

This is a trap that nearly all professions fall into. You know the intricacies of what you do, but the average consumer does not.

As the leader of your organization, it is an absolute necessity to educate not only your customers but also your employees. Your employees are the resources that face your customers, and they need to be educated about the importance of selling not only the product but added value. This is what differentiates you from the competition.

The bottom line is that whether it is your boss or your customer, how they perceive you is what they take away. Never forget that your customer’s perception becomes your reality.

OK, I take it back, perception is not a funny thing; in business it can mean the difference between success and failure. How do people perceive your company?

Timothy Duffy is the director of managed services — New England area for Siemens Business Services Inc. He is also the president of Fighter Associates LLC. Reach him at mailto:timothy.duffy@fighterassociates.com