Op-ed | Colin Lovering: Perception is Reality. If your customer thinks you stink, you probably stink!

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 07/04/2021 | 14:54

Have you ever been waiting in a doctor’s waiting room and found yourself staring alarmingly at the dying plant in the corner whilst thinking “If they can’t keep that plant alive, what chance have I got?”

By Colin Lovering


We have all been to a seemingly swanky, cool restaurant only to be dragged back to earth when momentarily visiting the toilet and discovering an insect and germ laboratory that, as our eyes can around, up and down, gives us visions of what the kitchen looks like and the hands that have placed the food on our plate moments before!

Or maybe we have got ourselves comfortable on a plane and pulled the tray table down only to see a large coffee stain. Our minds quickly question “cleanliness, engine maintenance, plane safety etc”

Perception is, indeed, reality and we, as businesspeople and leaders must always be aware of those ‘coffee stains’ that can be so innocent yet damaging to our business and reputation.

As a Business Performance Consultant and Coach, I tend to focus most of my energy on these coffee stains as many companies and individuals spend far too much time downloading unnecessary details about themselves that we don’t need to know, we already know it!

Staying with Restaurant analogies for a moment, I always say that good companies are like those great, coffee stain free restaurants. The client will not question whether the steak will be cooked well or if the table linen and glasses are clean. This is an automatic expectation. What they don’t expect is the magical moments and experience they get from eating in that restaurant or, indeed, doing business with you and your organization. That’s why they recommend you, that’s why they come back!

The dreaded Covid-19 has actually brought much more emotion into the customer care and buying process so these experiences are spread much further and, as we know, there is nothing more powerful than a recommendation for your business. It’s 50% of the sale already made!

Here are some statistics pre-Covid just to emphasise the point:

  1. 83% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family, colleagues, and friends about products and services – making these recommendations the highest ranked source for trustworthiness. [Nielsen]
  2. 90% of people trust suggestions from family and friends. [HubSpot]
  3. 70% of people trust consumer reviews online. [HubSpot]
  4. 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. [Ogilvy Cannes]
  5. 72% of people get news from friends and family, making word-of-mouth the most popular channel for sharing. [Pew Research Center]
  6. 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers as much as they trust recommendations from personal contacts. [BrightLocal]


And so, the Good News and the Bad News!

The conclusions that we can take from this are the impact that those magical moments can have on our business and future growth. It also emphasizes the impact that those coffee stains can have on the same.

It is a frustrating fact that people will always pick on the tiniest of flaws in our work but it is the reality and we need to be constantly awake to the damage those coffee stains can do. Another frightening statistic is this: “People tell an average of 9 people about a poor service experience, versus the 4 people they’ll tell about a good experience. … After one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with that company again!”


It’s not the problem, its how you deal with it that makes the difference!

On a penultimate note, problems and accidents do happen, I understand that. The opportunity and, yes, it is an opportunity is to deal with removing those coffee stains or sudden disasters in a professional, courteous way that actually makes you more memorable that if you had done a decent job in the first place. Mistakes are inevitable, use the time to show your true value.

So, I will finish with the rather predicted question; “Do you know your coffee stains?”

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