Let’s take a look at a few components of how clients’ perceptions of your quality can be enhanced. This is the first of a two-part blog post.
The key factor in client satisfaction is not how good you are at your profession, but how good your clients perceive you to be – in other words, your image.
The key factor in marketing success is not how good you are at your profession, but how good prospects and advocates perceive you to be.
It’s easier to create a good impression in the first place than to change a bad impression once formed.
The key factors in determining your image are summed up in the following perception principles.
Perception principle number 1: People perceive that your performance in non-business settings reflects your performance in your profession.
In other words, if you cheat on the golf course, your golf partners may suspect that you approach your professional responsibilities the same way.
People see your performance as a tennis player, parent, coach, etc. as representative of your performance as a professional.
They may not know how you handle yourself under pressure professionally, but they can tell how you handle yourself in the last 15 minutes of a school football game when your child’s team is down one goal.
Perception principle number 2: People perceive that your performance in one area of your business reflects your performance in all other areas of your business – especially the ones they cannot see.
This principle works for firms as well as for individuals. People may not know how well you do research, but they can clearly perceive whether you keep your library tidy.
They may not know whether you keep up with the latest developments in your speciality, but they do know whether your receptionist can pronounce their name.
They may not know how well you performed the service, but they know what your souvenirs look like.
Perception principle number 3: Other people perceive a person or firm differently from the way the person or firm perceives itself.
Perception principle number 4: Other people perceive a person or firm differently from the way the person or firm think it is perceived.
Perception principle number 5: Different people and groups perceive the person or firm differently from one another. Obviously, your image is not the real you. In fact, you or your firm could have an image that does not represent the real you nor the calibre of service you render. In other words, your image might have as much relationship to your reality as television news does to the real world.
When someone looks at you, what do they see? You might think they see you, but actually only about 5 per cent of what they see is you; the rest is your appearance, including your clothes and hairstyle!
The overall effect of what they see creates a mental picture or conception that gives some clues as to what sort of professional you might be.
For those who don’t know you, that image, and what you might say to them, is all the information they have with which to judge you. To them, that image is the real you.
Your personal image
Your image has two parts: (1) Your personal image and (2) the image of your firm. Personal impressions are composed largely of appearance, communication, and actions.
Appearance is just that – what you look like.
Appearance includes your clothes, grooming, posture, and gestures. People get one message if you wear business attire and a different one if you wear sports clothes.
Your business suit, your tie or scarf, and your shirt or blouse give visible clues as to who you are. These say, among other things, ‘This person looks like they mean business,’ or ‘This person is untidy’.
How would people react if you were otherwise dressed for business, and maybe wore trainers?
Like the tough-looking movie cowboy who enters the saloon and orders milk, you would give conflicting messages that confuse others. To avoid confusing your clients or sending mixed messages, dress consistently.
Generally, dress more rather than less conservatively, look richer rather than poorer, and understate rather than overstate. Create a commanding, confident image with consistent messages.
Yes, appearances can be deceiving, as you can’t tell a book by its cover. Nonetheless, book publishers spend millions on research each year to discover which types of cover will help sell their books.
Example: Did you ever notice a bookstore display of the same book in which half had red covers and half blue covers? Everything else was identical except the colours.
Or perhaps the colours were the same but the typeface in which the book title was different. That was a market test – the publisher was testing to discover the different colour or type style would have on sales.
These savvy businesspeople realise – for good or bad, rightly or wrongly – the cover has an influence on selling the book.
Similarly, your personal appearance sends definite messages – messages that sometimes neither the sender nor the receiver are aware of. Whether you like it or not, your appearance influences people.
Which way do you want it to influence them? Remember, 95 per cent of what people see of you is only your clothes and your hairstyle.
The same applies to everyone in your firm. Every employee should project a high-quality image because of the combined appearance created by your firm’s personnel signals to the public what sort of firm you are.
If people ever get to know you or your firm, they certainly have a more accurate picture of you both professionally and personally.
If you do not make the right first impression, you may never get the chance to make a second impression and cultivate a relationship with that person as a client.
In other words, unless you develop a positive, professional image of yourself and your firm in the minds of clients, potential clients, and advocates, you will probably not receive those referrals, nor your clients recommend you to others.
When asked to recommend a firm, what image first comes to clients’ and prospects’ minds when your name is mentioned?
Many more people know of you than are personally acquainted with you. And many more people are only acquainted with you than really know you.
The funny thing is that all those people – regardless of how well they know you – have an image of you. It is the mental picture they get when your name is mentioned. The better they know you, the more accurate their mental picture.
But the converse is also true. The less they know you, the less real, first-hand information they have on what kind of person you are, and what kind of firm you represent.
Well, then, how do people form their mental picture? What information goes into their minds to make up the picture?
Questions to think about:
- What kind of message does your clothing send?
- What message does your hairstyle give?
- What do they say about you?
- What message does your mobile phone or notebook convey?
- Your car?
- Your Twitter and Linked In (are you an All Star?) pages
Communicate in ways that reinforce your image of high quality, including your voice, the words you use, the jokes you tell and the subjects you discuss.
Communication overlaps with appearance to include your body language, the way you walk and carry yourself, and the gestures you use.
Do you stand and walk confidently, taking up a lot of space? Or do you creep into a room as though you hope nobody notices you? When you open your mouth, what comes out?
People’s number-one fear – for some even more feared than death – is the fear of speaking before a group.
Even if you never make a speech, the way you speak one-on-one or in social groups profoundly affects your image.
Effective speaking does not automatically set you apart from the crowd, but ineffective speaking guarantees that you remain anonymous – or notorious.
An offensive word, a poor choice of words, or an angry word, once spoken is irrevocable. Avoid the boring tone, the unpleasant voice, and the unpleasant personal mannerism.
You can find numerous training programmes to help you improve your ability to speak in public. And, if you think you don’t speak in public, think again. You certainly do not speak in private.
Any time you talk to someone other than yourself, you speak in public. Buy one of these programmes and listen to it several times and practise, practise, practise.
It will help you communicate a higher-quality, more confident image.
Do not use profanity, even if you hear the other person use it. Why take a chance on offending someone else within earshot?
Also, it hurts your professional image, even to someone who is personally profane.
Humour (such as teasing or jokes) also can be dangerous unless you are good at it. Avoid long stories or jokes in poor taste (e.g. morbid, religious, ethnic, or vulgar jokes).
Also, sarcasm can turn people off quickly; especially with people who do not know you well.
Actions can speak louder than words. Actions demonstrate competence and the quality of your service far better than words.
Actions include personal, business, community, and charitable activities, as well as the professional experiences people have with you.
Apply the perception principles to your discretionary, non-professional activities. To be perceived favourably by others, follow these guidelines in your leisure activities:
Select a project or organisation you enjoy regardless of whether or not it helps your business. It gives you a good feeling about how you spend your discretionary time.
This in turn makes it easier to stay active. You can find constructive activities in community, social and charitable organisations.
Community and charitable activities, such as schools and religious organisations have an added advantage that social clubs do not: Bonding occurs when dedicated people work together towards a worthwhile common goal.
Clearly, you should get involved only where you can be effective. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and avoid activities in which you cannot competently follow through on your tasks.
Remember, the way you perform here indicates to others how well you perform as a professional.
Your involvement and activism demonstrate leadership qualities only if people can see you. So pick your spot with care.
You can burn the midnight oil as treasurer of the Theatre Board, but you won’t get as much visibility as the fund-raising chair.
At the local art festival, you can squirt mustard at the Rotary hot-dog or burger stand until your hands cramp up and your feet cry for help, but people won’t notice you as much as they notice the membership chair.
One other thing, sow your seeds in fertile ground – any area that could lead to business opportunities later on.
The point of your action is to expend your efforts where you can make contacts and develop relationships with the largest number of prospective clients and referral sources. In other words, ‘Hunt where the ducks are!’
We all live in a very different world from the one we were brought up in – even the one that we trained in!
You have probably read or watched me talk about the technology companies that are circling around our professional services – all too ready to throw out the bait and catch work that has been our traditional domain.
But there are so many areas where these companies cannot compete and your quality service development together with your own technology offering are massively important in ensuring that you retain and grow your market share of business.