Reality vs. Perceptual Reality

by Scott Deming

shutterstock_215539510One of the “realities” I’ve discovered through the years of business ownership, consulting and speaking, is that the customer or client rarely sees you as YOU see you. This is known as Perceptual Reality. In his book Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads, Roy H. Williams defines Perceptual Reality as our imagination. We spend a great deal of time there, and while there we create ideas and perceptions of ourselves that simply are not true or real. We begin to think we’re better than we are and we are convinced our service is better than it actually is.

A study titled “The Lake Wobegon Effect,” affectionately named after Garrison Keeler’s radio show, highlights a human trait known as Illusory Superiority. It is a cognitive bias whereby individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. Simply put, we are not as great as we think we are and our service is not nearly as good as it should be. By understanding that all individuals suffer from this effect, especially those in business and especially those in a leadership position, we can take steps to reacquaint ourselves with our real selves.

A Bain & Company study showed that nearly 90 percent of all senior executives pat themselves on the back for their treatment of customers. These same executives also say they provide a superior level of service to their customers. When the customers of these companies were asked about the level of service they receive from said companies, they gave only 8 percent a superior rating.

No matter how many processes are in place and no matter how technically correct a process is, if the customer views you, your product or your service as less than wonderful, that, my friend, is reality. I was recently at a hotel (no name, but it is a large luxury chain) and before my presentation I was eating breakfast in its restaurant. Before the waitress came over to my table, I picked up my coffee mug — and it was filthy. I switched it for another mug on the table that was clean. After she poured my coffee, I handed her the dirty mug and suggested they run it through the dishwasher. I told her it was quite dirty. She looked at the mug and said, “It’s not dirty; it’s stained.” And she put the mug back on the table. Then she said, “Everyone thinks they’re dirty. We run these through the wash so often the coffee gets stained on the mug.” Then she walked away. Now, technically speaking, this mug was clean. However, I and many others view it as dirty. Is it clean or is it dirty?

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes on a regular basis and learn about you and your company from their perspective. You’ll be amazed at what you see, and you’ll be pleased at the solutions you come up with to create a better culture and a higher level of service.

Scott Deming, author of Powered by Purpose, has 30 years’ experience speaking, training and consulting with the largest and smallest companies in the world, helping them to create cultures that matter and cultures that last. His purpose is to help clients, friends and strangers make a positive change — in their personal life, professional life or organization. He is the founder and chairman of Safe and Sound with Amaya, one of the original founders and past board member of ServiceNation, and past board member of several nonprofits. 

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