What Do You See?


I use a simple exercise in many of my workshops to highlight the way humans take in selective information. In the middle of a large blank sheet of white flip chart paper, I draw a solid black circle. I reveal it to the group and ask them to call out what they see. “A black circle, a dot, a hole,…” Most of the page is white space, but they look right past that and see the blemish on the page. A brand is a lot like that. People always see the blemish. No matter how many other things you do “right”, that is what we are hard wired to see. That damn spot!

We all have blemishes. Even the businesses with the highest rated customer service screw up. A blemish does not destroy a brand. As a matter of fact, if it is recognized promptly and corrected, it can actually build your brand. The Ritz Carlton built their legendary brand by solving problems they caused their guests. What does seem to matter for your brand is how well you’ve built the white space over time; let’s call that white space your reputation. People are forgiving if you have a good reputation . This is especially true if you have a reputation for making a sincere attempt to correct the concern. Here are some things I have learned from the stories my clients tell me:

  • “It doesn’t matter” couldn’t be more wrong. It all matters.

  • Word of mouth matters a lot when it comes to brand. Brands die slowly as the blemishes multiply. Every time a story is told about a problem a customer experienced, the problem grows larger.

  • You don't know what your customers are saying outside your business. They will rarely tell you to your face about the blemishes they experienced. They are happy to tell others. Or tell Yelp.

  • On the average, your customers will tell three people about a great experience, and fifteen about a problem. Odds are you won’t see those fifteen in your business.

  • You need to train your eye to see the blemishes yourself. Obsess about them.

  • Your employees probably know the blemishes. Is it “safe” for them to tell you?

  • The customer may not always be right, but they think they are. Perception is reality. Your reasonable explanation for why the blemish exists doesn’t matter to them.

  • Your revenue is an indicator of the customer experience. Know your customer and know which “blemishes” bother them the most. Then eliminate them.

Don’t worry about being blemish free. That is unrealistic. Do worry about addressing them. Then use what you learn to prevent them in the future.


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