Perception is everything – senior car parks and customer service

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The other day I went to a shopping centre that I don’t often frequent and I noticed that there were specific parking bays for seniors. What I found particularly troubling were the painted images in those parking bays. They had the image of an old man with a stooped spine, holding a cane. That is a very stereotypical image of the older generation!

It made me realise that people have certain perceptions that are not easy to change. “Senior” for many people portrays an image of frail old people who are basically dependent, mentally slow and are a burden on society. Don’t tell that to 104-year-old sprinter, Miyazaki Hidekichi, who has challenged Usain Bolt to a race. Often perceptions are inaccurate but rightly or wrongly, they are how we view the world.

I thought that this applies to relationships and businesses. How often have you entered the office, perhaps a doctor’s office or a shop, and your first interaction with a staff member is one where they give you a cursory acknowledgement or just plain indifference. Now, an employee may have thought that they were being friendly and accommodating, but you as a customer felt that you were in the wrong place.

There is an old saying, “The customer is always right”, even when they are wrong. It behooves us to make sure that what we do and say is commensurate with the client’s perceptions. When there is a disconnect from the outset, it becomes difficult to make that initial first impression other than a lasting impression.

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It is a good idea if you have a business to get your staff or an outside party such as a coach or mentor to role play. Pretend that you are a customer entering the business and following the whole process from introduction through to sales offer and then to the closure of the transaction. When you do this, pay attention to the language that is being used. Sometimes our words say one thing while our body language says something else. This is a process that we used to conduct in my own business.

In our relationships, how often do we perceive something that was said as meaning something different to what the person had intended? This is where active listening becomes very important. When I was in my chiropractic practice I may have been saying one thing but the patient may have perceived something totally different. Honesty and asking the right questions become important factors. Clarifying through language is the best way of interacting with others. Don’t let misperceptions ruin a wonderful relationship.