Perception, Assumption, Assertion

My trick to lure you in with the biggest words I know has worked!  If you are in business, work in a business, or rely on anyone who does, you are being affected by a process you have likely little knowledge of: the perception, assumptions, and assertions of your potential customers.  In minutes customers can research, form an opinion, and make decisions digitally without any input from you other than interaction with your website.  

Our collective customer-facing group of around 40 meets monthly to celebrate achievements, recognize milestones, and announce exciting initiatives.  We dedicate the majority of this monthly gathering time to working on self-improvement.  These are peer-led activities (yes, that means games most of the time!) on attitude, expectation management, teamwork, empathy, leadership and much more. Most recently we performed an exercise in reviews that I found fascinating and helpful. 

The format was simple.  Break into groups and get passed a story of a customer’s experience.  Each group got a different customer story, anything from “bought a used car” to “restaurant dining” and “appliance purchasing”.  The directions were to read the story as if it was you and then write a review on the sheet below, the kind you’d post to Yelp, Google or Facebook if so inclined.  Then the stories, now with reviews, were collected and passed to a different group.  Their instructions were to only read the review and then state whether they would or wouldn’t do business with that company and why.  We then had some open discussion where responses were varied.  Here are some things I learned that morning, knew instinctively beforehand, or have reflected upon between then and now:

  • The power of consumer to consumer influence is tremendous in today’s marketplace.  It’s never been easier to speak loudly to all future customers a company may have.  It’s as if you can legally graffiti on shop windows!
  • Perception IS reality; especially important in singularly made judgments (customer and their screen).
  • Customers are making snap decisions on whether or not to buy from you before ever making contact.
  • Past experiences and personal preferences are wildcards in the perception of messages, so are each individual’s values.

In this way we affect each-others businesses.  A bad experience with one pizza place can make a customer suspicious of all pizza places’ ability to deliver satisfactorily, and predispose them to accept the unreasonable expectations of others as valid grievances.

Most people have a pretty strong justice meter.  Overall the responses were not surprising.  We all tried to be fair and objective, see the businesses side and be honest on our likelihood to condemn or accept.  So there is hope: especially if you take some effort to defend your reputation and demonstrate the commitment to serving customers.

The reviews your customer will leave about your product or service will predominantly be very positive or very negative.  Customers who are neutrally satisfied have little incentive to make effort to review.  People review when they are ecstatic or upset.  Positive reviews bring satisfaction, boost morale, and help win future customers.  Cherish them and share them.  Negative reviews are a legitimate threat to most businesses and should be monitored and addressed with urgency.  The best way to address negative reviews is to seek out the root causes and solve them through improvements, preventing negative experiences before they occur. 

I think even the best of organizations would say they are still on that journey.  Additionally, there are reviews which are let’s say, less than objective, reasonable, unbiased, forthcoming, complete, truthful….Customers writing a negative review are often emotional, passionate, distressed, outraged, disappointed, you name it, all of which affect what words they choose to tell their customer story to the world (wide web).

Here’s what you can do and why it’s important:

  • Add your voice to the conversation.  Respond publicly where possible so readers of the review can see your responsiveness and hear your side of the story.  I think the default of send template “Sorry to hear this. please contact us directly so we can help.” is missing the mark.  It doesn’t tell the resolution part of the story publicly and people rarely post follow up reviews to tell that part for you.  
  • Own service issues and solve them at the first opportunity.  Most people responded they would buy from companies who adequately addressed issues.  I interpret this as most people have reasonable expectations and realize things do sometimes go wrong and are satisfied when resolved well.  When issues even small go unresolved, ignored, or discounted a damaging downward spiral occurs.

The stage is now the world and it’s always open mic night.  It’s critical we all leverage this great influence for good and protect against detriments to our businesses futures.

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