Quality in Perception vs. Quality in Fact
by Adele Sommers
What’s the value of perception? Isn’t it interesting how our perceptions rule our beliefs and actions? So much of the brain research today seems to support the idea that our perceptions define our reality.
For that reason, this article focuses on the role of perception in the minds of consumers. Is the glass half empty or half full? The definition resides in your customers’ eyes!
People Perceive Quality in Many Ways
Regardless of how good you believe your offerings or project solutions are, your clients and customers will be responding to “quality in perception” even more than “quality in fact.”
- Quality in fact refers to the features that we believe we’re paying for, such as how much something weighs, how fast it runs, or various other characteristics.
- Quality in perception refers to things like courtesies, special considerations, a caring and personalized attitude, and a host of other subtleties that can lead us to believe we’re receiving something above and beyond what we’re paying for. Thus, effective quality in perception can help compensate for any gaps in quality in fact that could otherwise irritate or inconvenience consumers.
Often, Perceived Value Is Not about Cost
Some years ago, I volunteered as a mediator in Small Claims Court. Over several months, I was truly fascinated by the number of complaints that involved alleged wrongdoing or incompetence. People were suing businesses such as termite services and auto body painters, and even former best friends and healthcare providers over a variety of grievances! The suits often sought fairly small amounts of compensation, which meant that the costs involved were not the primary concern.
What repeatedly emerged in the mediation sessions was that each plaintiff felt that the vendor, service provider, healthcare provider, or ex-friend had not listened to his or her concerns.
Those plaintiffs frequently believed that their complaints about perceived shortcomings in services, products, or communications had simply been dismissed.
Had the defendants in these cases initially offered something as basic as a sincere apology — and had they made a concerted effort to communicate, while also taking timely remedial action — I believe that the resulting quality in perception could have prevented many of these lawsuits, even if the quality in fact still left something to be desired.
Compelling Proof of the Power of Apologies
As the New York Times reported years ago, sincere, heart-felt apologies coming from doctors, surgeons, and hospitals who made serious medical mistakes have the effect of greatly reducing the likelihood that patients will sue for malpractice. Further, patients who settle out of court are often willing to accept lower settlement payments than when doctors become defensive and deny what happened.
“Deny and defend” is the advice that malpractice lawyers and insurers have typically given to doctors in the U.S., according to the Times. Studies that show that as few as 30 percent of medical errors are ever disclosed to patients. Yet because malpractice claims have helped cause medical expenses to skyrocket, drastic changes in handling these high-stress situations are sorely needed.
According to the article, the University of Illinois Medical Center initiated a program of openly acknowledging and apologizing for its medical mistakes.
Two years later, the number of malpractice filings against the center dropped in half. And in 37 cases where the hospital acknowledged a preventable error and apologized, only one patient had filed suit.
In one patient’s situation described in the article, “the doctor was completely candid, completely honest, and so frank that ... all the anger was gone.” This apology also helped settle the case for a significantly lower amount.
Creating a Perception of Seamlessness
To help ensure the continuity of our customers’ perceptions, we need to create consistently pleasant experiences in every interaction each person has, from visiting a Web site or bricks-and-mortar location, to asking for more information, to buying products, to receiving shipments, to interacting with the actual products or services, to asking for help, and so on.
Consider this very important point: People perceive a series of interactions with your organization and offerings as one cohesive experience — as if everyone and everything is on the same page and represents the same seamless piece of woven fabric.
Customers really don’t care whether behind the scenes, your business is spread out all over the world, or whether individual departments consist of contractors or employees, aliens or earthlings. Whenever customers contact technical support representatives, for example, they expect them to know all about the features advertised on the Web site that are supposed to be in the product.
So, if there is any type of communication disconnect, you might be able to explain it to yourself, but there’s no logical explanation for it in your customer’s mind.
Prescriptions for Boosting Quality in Perception
These important findings show the power of apologies and candid communications in influencing the perceptions of clients, customers, or patients. To make sure you’re not overlooking potential ways to create quality in perception, consider:
1) Special courtesies that can set your offerings apart from your competitors’
2) Your ability to listen to and handle complaints quickly and diplomatically
3) Your willingness to be honest with clients about problems and shortcomings
4) Clear, prompt, and courteous communications that convey consistent details
Remember that quality in perception is not a substitute for quality in fact. But it can go a long way toward minimizing customer and client dissatisfaction, as well as powerfully reinforcing stellar quality when you ultimately deliver it.
Copyright 2020 Adele Sommers