What McDonald’s and a violin can teach you about customer perceptions

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“You are only as wise as others perceive you to be” ~M. Shawn Cole

On the morning of Friday, January 12, a colorless man emerged from the metro at L’Enfant Plaza station in downtown DC wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a baseball cap. He found a spot near a trash can and withdrew a violin from a case he had been carrying. He pushed the empty case in front of him, shrewdly tossed in a few dollars, and then began to play.

The commuters’ bodies were a blur as he played Chaconne from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. To those walking by him on that morning, it was one of many cacophonous sounds. I’m sure most made the split second decision that he was another pan handler. Over the next 43 minutes, he played 6 classical pieces and made $32.17.

3 days earlier this same man, Joshua Bell, Grammy award winning violinist, played Chaconne to a sellout crowd in Boston. The lowest priced ticket was $100. The violin he used then and on this morning? A Stradivari worth 3.5 million.

Your customers create quick perceptions about your business too.

You don’t have a lot of time to make a first impression. Answering the phone incorrectly, waiting too long to respond, providing poor service are some examples of ways to create that unfavorable impression. Trying to change this perception after the damage is done can be tough work.

McDonald's Twitter disaster
McDonald's recent Twitter disaster

The dangers of trying to alter perception without changing the reality.

We all know that McDonald’s has a perception and a reality problem. Their food is unhealthy and people know it. Documentaries have been made outlining it, studies have been done proving it, and how gross you feel after eating it are all the evidence you need. McDonald’s has been trying unsuccessfully to change people’s perception of their brand. Remember – the perception – not the reality. Even though they’ve tried to introduce healthy options, even their new salads have been proven to have as much fat content as their standard burger.

Last week they tried a Twitter hashtag campaign outlining the quality ingredients that goes into McDonalds’s food. Here’s the tweet that kicked off the firestorm:

The problem? “Quality food?” Naturally people disagreed. Here’s one example of the Twitter backlash:

The campaign wasn’t a good idea and has since been discontinued. Why did it fail so badly? McDonald’s hasn’t fixed their reality problem. The campaign had a shot at working if they could have listed new healthy benefits for their food. We, of course, know that they can’t.

Social media isn’t the end all for everything.

Remember that the basics still matter. Survey. Make good crap. Exceed expectations. It’s vital that you carefully monitor the perceptions of your customers. Doing so can teach you what is wrong and what needs fixing. The key in all of this is – fix it. Don’t do as McDonalds did and just try to change perceptions by telling a nice story. Their product still sucks and they got punished on social media for it.

No individual or business is perfect. We all make mistakes. McDonald’s did. You probably did last week too. Your customers tell you ways to fix your product many times every day. Listen. Create favorable perceptions by creating a great product. It’s the winning recipe.

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