Using Your Customer's YardstickIt’s all about perception. Eons ago the ancient Greek Philosopher, Epictetus, mused “What concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.” We so easily mouth the words “perception is reality.” But do we seek out and work from our customers’ reality? Or do we tend to dismiss key internal partner or external customer expectations as “unrealistic.” Or “that’s not reality, that’s just their perception.”

In high service/quality organizations there’s little doubt or debate. Service/quality is defined by the customer. Period.

A major driver of the enduring service/quality leadership and success of the Four Seasons international hotel chain has been their definition of service/quality through the eyes of the customers they serve. One of their senior executives explains, “Customers don’t buy a product, they buy what the product does for them. Quality in product or service is not what we think it is. It’s what our customers perceive it is — and what they need and want. If we don’t give customers what they expect, they’ll perceive our service as poor. If we give them what they expect they’ll perceive it as good. If we give them more than they expect they’ll perceive it as excellent. Perception is largely a matter of expectation.”

All too often we’ve found that the features, attributes, or service/quality expectations of the customer are out of sync with what the organization considers to be important and is focused upon delivering. As customers, we have all dealt with organizations that have done an outstanding job delivering a service or product feature we could care less about. So as the salesperson prattles on about that “wonderful” feature, or the company heavily promotes some “unique” service, we’re being driven crazy by the lack of attention to some other feature or service that the company obviously considers trivial or much less important.

One reason for customer and organization perceptions of value to be out of sync is that customer expectations are changing so quickly today. Teams/organizations not tuned into their customers often miss these shifts — until someone else bursts onto the scene with more customer-responsive products or services. We must continuously improve and change our service/quality levels in step with those we serve or we risk being changed.