In 1928, Edward Bernays, known as the father of public relations, wrote in his book Propaganda (“propaganda” was the original term for “public relations”), “In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered to him on the market. In practice … society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort going on to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.
This vast and continuous effort is known as perception management. You may be familiar with the term – it’s used by public relations firms and is a set of tactics designed to affect public perceptions of an organization’s image, identity, or reputation. The idea is to manage the perceptions customers will have of your business, and not let their perceptions be formed without your influence.
What does this mean in practice? What’s the goal? And how can you manage people’s perceptions effectively?
A national corporation might want a certain demographic to perceive it as upscale, in favor of workers’ rights, or family-friendly. They might try to accomplish this with large-scale ad campaigns that link their brand to a good cause, a style, or anything the company wants to be associated with. The goal is to generate more profit by managing perceptions as a way to raise the perceived value of the brand.
For independent appliance repair firms, these techniques may be too large, but on a smaller scale, there are many ways to influence the perceptions your customers will form of you. If your plan is to increase your rates while not scaring off customers, you might begin to brand your business as a high-end, high-quality service. You’re probably already offering high-quality service, but is that how your customers perceive you?
Perception is a funny thing – it doesn’t always match reality. That’s because our perceptions tend to be subjective. Our perceptions can be malleable and are often shaped by factors such as appearance. You may be a superb technician, but if you show up to a customer’s house dressed like a slob, chances are the customer will form a negative perception, even though your style of dress is unrelated to your technical skill.
You can get an excellent haircut at a barber shop for $12, yet some people will pay $100 at a high-end salon for a haircut of the same quality. Why? Possibly because they perceive the salon’s value as higher because of the way it’s presented. The barber shop has hair on the floor, worn-out benches, and maybe old men in the corner smoking cigars and arguing about boxing, but the salon is clean, well-lit, has nice décor, etc. All of these factors influence the perception people will form when they walk in the door, yet none of them are relevant to the quality of the haircut they’ll get.
The same goes for appliance repair companies. A company that sends out well-dressed, well-spoken technicians with quality tools, clean shirts, clean pants, combed hair, and up-to-date technology will be perceived as more valuable and will command higher prices than a company whose technicians are just as skilled but not as presentable.
So how can you manage the perception your customers will have of you? First, you have to observe yourself and your company from the customer’s perspective. How does your website look to someone who’s never heard of your company? How do you look to the customer when they walk in the door and you greet them? How do you sound to someone when you’re explaining the problem and telling them the price? Do you come across as confident and assured, or unsure of your diagnosis and rates? Are these factors that you address only when it’s absolutely necessary, or do you intentionally work to improve them by taking an active role in the way you’re perceived?
All of these elements play a part in the customer’s perception of you and your value. So if you want to make more money, your customers need to perceive your service as high-value and high-quality – and that’s entirely up to you.