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It has been said that “perception is reality”. I think that, in the proper context, this is quite true. It has also been said that “image is everything.” That, I think, is foolish and shallow. Image without substance will soon be seen for what it is: deception.
As a business owner, however, you must come to terms with the fact that what your customer perceives about your business, your products, your service – this is reality for them. At least it is until that perception is changed either for good or for bad. Then that becomes their reality in regards to your business. Continually and diligently working to shape and inform that perception is your job. It’s not enough for you to know that you have the best donuts in town – if a customer doesn’t think so, then you don’t. It doesn’t really matter if you believe that your sales staff is highly trained and knowledgeable – if the prospect doesn’t think so, then they aren’t.
Back in 2005, Michael Levine wrote a book entitled Broken Windows, Broken Business: How the Smallest Remedies Reap the Biggest Rewards. The thesis of his book about business is based on a social science theory put forth in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in March of 1982. The article by criminologists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling described their theory that if something as small and innocuous as a broken window is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. Why? Because the message conveyed by that broken window is one of perception: that no one cares and this leads to a larger sense that no one in the community cares, etc. In other words, any small indication that something is amiss and being repaired can lead to larger problems.
So what is a business Leader to do?
First, know your own business inside and out – look for and recognize the “broken windows” in your business. Second, know your customers “inside and out”! Get to know them better than they know themselves. Learn what their real perceptions are of you, your business, and your product or service.
Third… fix the windows.