How Customers Perceive Service

The prank was pure genius.

Two boys stood on opposite sides of the road. As a car approached, the boys would pantomime picking up a rope and pulling it taught across the road. 

This caused speeding cars to slow down as the drivers perceived they were about to run into whatever the boys had stretched across the road. They couldn't see anything in front of them, but the boys' actions told the drivers' subconscious brains that some danger lurked ahead.

Of course, there was no rope. You can watch the prank here.

The drivers were reacting to the boys' actions, not reality. Customer service is often the same way. The experience is almost always amplified for good or bad by the actions of the individuals serving us.

Here are just a few examples:

A restaurant meal can become "an amazing experience" or the "worst meal ever," depending on the rapport the server can develop with her guests.

A retail shopper can become "a customer for life" or vow to "never go back," based on the retail associate's ability to listen carefully to his customers' needs.

A cable company can ensure a problem is "quickly solved" or deliver "nightmare customer service" based on the technician's ability to solve a problem and make customers feel okay in the process.

Somehow, many executives miss this important lesson. 

They understand the product or service they sell, without considering how their employees impact customers' perception. These spreadsheet jockeys know the numbers, but not the people.

In researching my forthcoming book, The Service Culture Handbook, I've discovered that elite customer service organizations do something differently. These organizations focus on their people first. They work diligently to hire, train, and empower employees who will create positive perceptions with the customers they serve.

That's because companies with customer-focused cultures understand that customer perception, not product, is the most important aspect of a company's reputation.