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You don't control your brand. Your people do.

Scott Deming is a very successful, very highly rated speaker and author on the subject of customer service and emotional branding. One of his blogs was passed on to us recently; it’s a cute and thought-provoking story about a coffee-stained cup. Notice your first reaction to the story as you read it. It might be to condemn the employee’s low standards. But was it the employee’s fault?

She was probably told that the stains were hard to remove. Perhaps by the person who washes the dishes in the kitchen. Perhaps even by a supervisor or fellow employee. She believed that was the “honest” answer. She wasn’t responsible for the stain. Someone else was responsible and she was just telling it like it is.

We must remember that those who speak for us can ruin our reputation not matter how lofty our goals, no matter how good our product, no matter how hard we work. And no matter how good their intentions.

Your business has more than one distinct brand. You have a public brand, a product brand, a partner brand, an investor’s brand, an employment brand and more. The way your employees and other stakeholders perceive your business is not the same as the public perception.

Scott’s angle is that something as simple as the condition of a cup can enhance or damage your brand. But the story could just as well be about a person – an employee, yours or mine – and how they represent us in each “moment of truth”, in each and every interaction they have in the course of a day, whether they are on duty or off.

We can’t assume that just because they are reliable, hard workers that they understand our brand or care to represent it well. How comfortable are you in placing your reputation – and your income security – in the hands of each and every one of your employees? Maybe it’s time for a cleaner cup.

Here’s Scott’s take:


Perception is Reality

I was recently staying in a top level hotel - part of a very well known chain. The overall stay was nice. The room was nice, the people were nice, everything was nice - then I went to the restaurant for breakfast. As I waited for the waitress, I noticed the coffee mug in front of me was very dirty on the inside. I switched it for a clean one on the other side of the table. The waitress approached me and asked if I would like coffee and I told her I would. I handed her the dirty cup saying - “You might want to send this back through the dishwasher. It’s quite dirty.” She said - “Oh, it’s not dirty. It’s just stained. Everyone thinks it’s dirty. You just can’t get the stains off after so many cups of coffee.” Then she put the cup back on the table!

I called the hotel chain’s corporate headquarters and told them this story. I told them about Perceptual Reality. Here’s what I mean. Even though the cup is literally clean, it’s still very dirty. Why? Because that’s the way I and many others perceive it. Here’s another dangerous slope this high-end hotel is now slipping on. The restaurant is independently owned, leasing space from the hotel. However, in my mind and the minds of others, this is a “Hotel” issue. The “Hotel” is dirty. The ”Hotel” doesn’t care if they serve food and drinks in dirty cups and plates. The “Hotel” doesn’t care enough about their customers to clean their kitchenware. The “Hotel” brand is being damaged. Not the restaurant.

What would it cost to throw this cup away and replace it with a new one? A couple of bucks? What will it cost if their reputation gets tarnished and potential overnight quests, or corporate conference planners decide against this hotel and others associated with it because of dirty restaurants? What would it cost if I blogged this story and gave you the “Hotel’s” name? It would cost a lot more than replacing a “stained” coffee cup.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned here. First, know what your customers or clients are thinking. How do they perceive you and your service? You may perceive it one way, but I guarantee you - they are perceiving it a different way. Use their perception as reality, not yours. Second, if you use outside vendors or suppliers to serve your customers, keep them tightly within your brand strategy, brand integrity and service commitment. Anything “they” do is a reflection on “YOU.”

Perception is reality. When you’re dealing with the public, the public’s perception always wins.

The hotel headquarters is now contacting this particular location and hopefully remedying the situation.

You can comment on this blog and others by going to Scott’s website and blog page here http://www.scottdemingesp.com/blog/

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