Perception is reality, first impressions count!

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Free Article – Perception is Reality

First impressions count

Key Learning Outcomes

  • Recognise your business is assessed according to what is perceived by your customers, or potential customers, to be reality.
  • Learn that “street appeal” is crucial when seeking new business.
  • Illustrate how, as a business owner, you can invest in the physical presentation of your business premises and your personal presentation to boost success.
  • Understand that a positive attitude will attract customers and referrals.

Article

The harsh reality is that people will make judgments about you and your business from first impressions. Now, you might think this is not really fair, and if they did business with you they would discover just how good you are. But when you think about it, we all do exactly the same thing every single day; we make assessments based on what we perceive to be reality.

Do yourself a favour and walk around your local area or an area nearby. Look around and think about which houses are the most appealing to you. Chances are that unless you are a builder that sees beauty in what is clearly a renovator’s delight, the houses that you perceive to be the nicest are the ones with the nicely painted fence and the attractive front garden. You make this assessment without any knowledge of what is behind the front door. This is what is known in real estate as ‘street appeal’.

When you are looking to attract new business, you need to think about your street appeal. If you are offering a service and go out to see clients, you might think that you do not have to worry about this. You would be wrong. It is just that your street appeal relates to you rather than your premises. Another thing is that in business, it is not just the premises that we have to worry about; you can have the nicest looking shopfront and still leave a poor first impression.

Here is an example. A new hairdressing business opened recently in our local area in the same location as two other businesses that have opened and closed over the past few years. They spent considerable time and money on an internal fit out before opening for business. The other day we walked past the business and wondered how it was going. The first thing we noticed was that the name of the previous business (not a hairdresser) was still on the awning; although this isn’t a significant thing, it showed a lack of attention to detail. How expensive would it be to paint over the name while the fit out was being done? The second thing we noticed was that the salon was empty (though not unusual for a brand new business at an off-peak time), and someone (we assume the owner) was sitting, or rather slumped, in one of the client’s chairs and appeared to be having a nap.

What was our perception of how business was going? Our perception was that things were not going well. Is this reality? We cannot be sure, but there are some lessons that every business can learn from this. For instance, you need to be aware of your street appeal. Think about the following aspects of your business and address them if you feel you are falling short. Also, do not think it is all about spending money; in fact, it will not cost anything to address most issues.

Presentation 

There are several parts to this. The first is the physical presentation of your business premises. You do not have to spend money refitting them, but you do have to spend time ensuring that the business is clean and tidy. Look at the business from the outside; walk past from every angle just as your potential clients will. Too often, clients spend money on a fancy fit out, and then from the side or back all you can see is a messy desk or work area. Look at your business with your customers’ eyes; you might have a cheap and cheerful cafe, but no one wants to eat somewhere that does not look clean. Imagine an accountant’s office is cluttered with large piles of papers. While they may know where everything is and may be brilliant at what they do, potential clients’ perception is likely to be that “they do not seem very organised”. This is not the person you want to manage your financial future.

The second part is personal presentation. Once again you do not have to spend a fortune on a new wardrobe, but you do have to make sure, for example, that your clothes are clean and ironed and your shoes are polished. People perceive that if you take pride in yourself, you will take pride in your work. Think back to when you went for a job interview. You made sure that you were dressed in your best outfit, your hair was neat and you were on your best behaviour. Think of a meeting with a potential new customer as a job interview. Your business is your livelihood. Are they going to choose to employ you? If you have a team, instill this attitude in them, and set a standard and make sure you live by it.

Finally, think about your street appeal and don’t forget that in this day and age it stretches wider than ever. Think about what your online presence says about you. It is likely that some of your clients are going to come into contact with you in the first instance online. Make sure you stand out and that your online shopfront is something to be proud of.

Attitude

Is the customer always right? Perhaps not, but at the end of the day it is the customers that will ultimately determine the level of success for your business. When you operate with a customer first attitude it becomes part of your mindset and company culture, and this in turn helps drive success. Think about the great experiences you have had in your life. More often than not your great experiences will involve people rather than things, and the good feelings that you had. Try and build a positive feeling into your business and you will attract customers and referrals.

On a recent overseas trip we dined at a famous chef’s restaurant. We booked months in advance and were excited about the opportunity and wanted to love the experience. While the food lived up to our expectations, we were left feeling flat, not because the service was poor; it was technically perfect but it came with no warmth or gratitude for our business and with an arrogance that left a poor taste in our mouth (excuse the pun!). The following day we were fortunate enough to dine at another highly rated restaurant. After the previous night’s experience we were pleasantly surprised by the contrasting experience. The food was again exceptional, but the experience was made so special by the attitude of every member of staff we came in contact with. In both cases the food was excellent, but which restaurant do you think we recommended to our friends, family and colleagues? The second one, of course. The message is that you can have the greatest product in the world but if your attitude is poor it is going to hurt your business in the long run.

While it may seem simplistic, you will never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make it count!

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