There is a parable about a group of blind men who have never come across an elephant before. Conceptualising the elephant by touch alone, each man feels a different part of the elephant's body, such as the side or the tusk. Their perceptions of the elephant vary greatly. Suspecting the others are being dishonest, eventually, they come to blows.
Perception is the process by which individuals organise and interpret their sensory impressions in order to give meaning to their environment. Humans like to claim absolute truth based on their subjective experiences, ignoring others’ experiences which may be equally true.
Our clients often tell us they want to be able to change perceptions towards their organisation. They feel they have been given an unfair review or a customer has expressed dissatisfaction with a service, despite the service exceeding the exact specification requested. The team engaging with the client went above and beyond at every opportunity and honestly believes they have a ‘great relationship’ with them. Despite excellent service, negative perceptions prevail.
Why does this happen? Well, one common cause is that the client has had a bad experience with your company in the past, before your arrival and beyond your control. The client’s current dissatisfaction probably has nothing to do with the service you’re providing; you’re simply operating in the shadow cast by your predecessors. What can be done to change the client’s perception?
At Applied Influence Group, we know there are many factors which form a perception. Here are the three most important for organisations to consider according to Dr Alan Saks, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and HR Management in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto:
The Perceiver – The person generating the perception will be influenced internally by their own personal characteristics. These are the filters (morals, biases, experiences) which create the frame through which they view a situation (or an organisation). To influence the Perceiver, you must spend time understanding them. Listen to their perspective to understand what's important to them and what has formed their perception. You are far more likely to shape someone's perception by helping them to consider it's origins than you are by arguing against their logic.
The Target – What is being perceived in context, i.e. your organisation in relation to the other organisations in your field. For example, a traditional bank in an ever-expanding and very appealing field of agile and easily accessible challenger banks. In this context, a traditional bank is seen as slow to respond to market demands and keep up-to-date with technological developments. Whereas challenger banks may be seen as less reliable than the more trusted institutions.
The Situation – This is the current climate affecting organisations such as yours and your customers'. This could be a political or economic stability issue or something sector-specific, such as new legislation.
Consideration for these three points will give you the ability to adapt your service and your message to your customers. Don't focus on whether you believe their perception to be right or fair but instead try to understand the cause. If the story you write about yourself always casts you as the infallible hero, there is only one part for the customer, and that’s the villain. This way lies conflict and disharmony.
There are things known, and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception. Aldous Huxley