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Correct Misperceptions That Drive Away Potential Customers and Beneficiaries

Jan 21, 2008
Most people imagine that customers and beneficiaries are always eager to improve their situations. A close look at those who need the most help reveals how untrue such imaginings are.

Social workers anywhere in the world will tell you that they spend most of their time trying to persuade those who need help to seek the right aid. Those who are poor, ill, abused, unemployed, and overwhelmed have such strong negative emotions about their circumstances that they often reject helpful choices because these people don't believe anything can be done.

In the business world, a perceived slight that occurred decades before may cause a potential customer to shun a valuable offering. In any context, the manner in which an offering is made will disproportionately affect how people perceive the offering's appropriateness for them.

Let's consider organizational names and descriptions as a starting point for our investigation of misperceptions. Imagine that there are two appliance repair companies listed in whatever source you consult. One company calls itself "Mr. Fix-It" and the other calls itself "Quick Service Repairs."

Without knowing anything about either one, you might be inclined to favor Mr. Fix-It when something major has gone wrong (such as a short in your stove's microwave oven) and Quick Service Repairs when you need the appliance back running again as soon as possible (such as your freezer when it's full of frozen food).

The suppliers' capabilities may be quite different. Mr. Fix-It may be lousy at microwave ovens, but fast in arriving for freezer emergencies. Quick Service Repairs may be slow in arriving for any problem, but does excellent work on site once they do arrive.

If both companies keep the same names and the same performance attributes, both companies will disappoint many of their new customers . . . many of whom will never use the company again.

Consider instead the performance perceptions created by these companies if they exchange names. The renamed Mr. Fix-It will soon have a tremendous following of people who need help with on-site repairs while the renamed Quick Service Repairs will soon dominate the freezer repair market.

Now that you see how branding and performance attributions have to be aligned, let's look at a different source of misperceptions . . . the way the offering is presented by those who provide that offering. Our home's furnace was falling apart, and our fuel oil service and delivery man told us that we would have to replace the furnace soon.

When heating oil prices increased rapidly in late 2005, we realized that a new furnace might also be more fuel efficient. At the same time, we knew that the old furnace had other problems. Strange creosote-like odors leaked into the house in unexpected locations.

Our fuel oil serviceman told us that nothing could be done about the odors. He also recommended a friend of his to install our new furnace. The recommended man had installed the serviceman's furnace, and the serviceman had been very pleased with the results.

We called the recommended installer, and he ignored us. We asked our serviceman to call the installer on our behalf . . . and that call also did no good. After waiting a month, we decided to contact other installers.

We started with our plumber because he had experience with boilers. He reluctantly agreed to look at our job, came right away and provided a quote that seemed pretty fair. We asked him if he could come down a little on price, and he said he couldn't. Because he never buys furnaces, he could not get a volume discount like frequent furnace installers can. We thanked the plumber and kept looking.

One company sent the firm's president, all dressed up in a classy suit and tie. The man was very impressive and showed us why we had the odors, pointing out that extra work would be needed to fix the problem.

Responding favorably to his expertise, we asked him to quote on everything that would need to be done. Weeks passed, and no quote appeared. Finally, we browbeat him into giving us an oral quote. It was almost double that of the plumber's.

We found that other bidders also varied in their appearance, their ability to diagnose our problem, and the prices they quoted. A few told us to be sure to clean our air ducts before installing the new furnace; otherwise, our house would be filled with soot because the new furnaces have stronger blowers to circulate the air. That was new and valuable information.

At the last moment, the first man, the one recommended by our serviceman, called to say he would be over in 15 minutes to look at our job. He walked through in less than 3 minutes, and faxed back a bid within 30 minutes. It was the low bid. He didn't mention anything about cleaning air ducts or fixing the odors.

We decided to have the air ducts cleaned on our own and hired the recommended man to put in the furnace. It just didn't seem worth it to spend several thousands of dollars extra hoping to fix the odors.

We sent the down payment check to the installer, and he called back the day he got the check to schedule installation for two days later. The duct cleaner and the contractor's removal man nicely coordinated so that the duct cleaning could be done faster. The duct cleaner gave us a deal and provided us a lot of extra services because his job was made easier by the removal man.

The installer located all of the problems that were causing the odors and simply fixed the problems without asking for any extra money. The new furnace was soon operating, and the installer did a great job of cleaning up from the mess. The unpleasant odors were instantly gone. We were delighted!

What are the lessons here? The installer we chose is obviously a prince and wizard among furnace contractors, but his method of dealing with potential customers makes him seem unreliable.

Clearly, the people who made a good impression on us with their knowledge and willingness to share that knowledge caused us to want to work with them. It was only when these impressive people either wanted double the price or failed to follow through in a timely fashion that we dismissed them. Had they only asked for a 20 percent premium and been timely on follow through, we probably would have hired one of them.

Had the first man shown up to look at our job within two weeks of our first call, we wouldn't have contacted anyone else. But we still would have had a problem with soot being blown into our house from the dirty ducts. We would have been annoyed.

So we were well served by the delay in our installer's reply to our request for a quote. The installer needs to take a few more minutes to talk to prospects and explain about duct cleaning. He can probably charge more money if he does, and his profits will grow as customer satisfaction soars.

Here are questions to help you appreciate the major sources of misperceptions about your organization and its offerings:

-Does your organization's name capture the essence of your most valuable attributes?

-What organizational name would better communicate those attributes?

-Do the names of your offerings capture the essence of their most valuable attributes?

-What brand names would better communicate those attributes?

-How does your performance not meet the standards of what beneficiaries and customers often need?

-Would it be worthwhile to customers and beneficiaries for you to provide more performance in those areas . . . even if prices and time involved for your offerings increased?

-With whom does your organization have a bad reputation that doesn't reflect your current performance?

-How can you change your name and reputation to remedy that out-of-date bad reputation?
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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