External Perceptions Versus Internal Realities: Who Knows You Best?


As I just reviewed a recent article on “America’s Most Hated Companies”, it made me again question, “Why do people flock to some brands and hate others?”

Though I dare not to try to solve this mystery with a simple and tertiary exploration, in many cases this is answered by better understanding the Customer Experience. What is the Customer Experience? A basic definition of the Customer Experience is simply the sum of all perceptions, interactions, and experiences a customer has with a given brand and/or company.

Think for a moment about your FAVORITE brand – the one in which you are most loyal and most passionate. What are the feelings, emotions, impressions, and thoughts you have from the sum of all your experiences with that particular brand or company? Now, do the same with your LEAST FAVORITE brand. How do they compare and contrast?

Now, take it one step closer to home. Think about your own company’s external perception versus internal reality. Is there harmony or conflict? Why one versus the other?

Having spent over 30 years in helping companies define their brand, elevate their customer experience, and grow their sales, I really enjoy addressing inconsistencies, threats, and opportunities regarding brand environments, product lines, communications, and interactions from the CUSTOMERS’ perspective. In doing so, I’ve also come to realize that addressing the customers’ perspective is only part of the solution that separates the “Most Hated Companies” from the “Most Admired Companies”. There is more. An important differentiator comes down to the harmony or conflict between external perceptions and the answer to this question: “What is the experience of our employees, suppliers, and partners? What do THEY think about us?”

I’ve worked with a number of Presidents, Founders, and CEOs who are willing to take the first step and ask, “What do our customers think about our brand and/or company?” I’ve also been amazed how surprisingly few leaders are willing to ask the tough question: “What do those who know us most intimately, like our employees and vendors, think about our brand and/or company?” Perhaps it is due to the fact that it takes courage, humility, and a willingness to listen to those who know us MOST INTIMATELY. It is the question that can separate the external façade from reality. It has the potential to either affirm or expose. It is the one question that cuts to the chase.

Regardless of your particular belief, I think it is fair to say that no other leader has so radically impacted the world as Jesus has. I find it fascinating that one possessing the power and influence that was uniquely his was willing to ask his “leadership team” (those who knew him best and most intimately) these questions:

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Think of this in the context of a recent Customer Experience survey that asks, “What attributes best describe ‘Brand X’ or ‘Company Y’?”)
“Who do you say I am?” (Think of this in the context of a company surveying its employees, suppliers, and partners with the same Customer Experience question.)
The fact that such a powerful and influential leader who literally changed the course of the world was willing to ask this final question says a lot about his humility, leadership, transparency, and confidence. I believe we can learn from this example and apply an aspect of this to our own situation – both personally and professionally.

Whether or not you are in or leading one of the “Most Hated” or “Most Loved” companies in America, each of us has the opportunity to get real by asking those who know us best and most intimately the same type of questions that Jesus asked. In doing so, we might get validation of who we (and the brands and/or companies that we may be representing) REALLY are.

Though daring to ask those most intimately acquainted with us, “Who do you say I am?” may take courage, humility, and a willingness to listen to their answers, I believe it is the fundamental question we must ask if we are serious about making the greatest positive impact with the life we’ve been given as well as the brand and/or company in which we may be stewarding. It’s a risky but enlightening challenge. Are you willing to ask those who know you best the question?

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