A Different Sort of Naked Lunch

March 30, 2009

I just had one of those mistaken-identity moments that really hit home the importance of expectations.  I had a lunch appointment with the CEO of a local company.  I had met Greg only once before, about a year ago and remembered him to be a tall, lanky, red-haired man.

As I drove up to the restaurant, I immediately saw who I thought to be Greg standing outside the door.  He caught my gaze and nodded in approval as if to say ‘hey, it’s me’.  As I approached, I stuck out my hand and said his name.  He said ‘yes’ and then proceeded to lean over and kiss me on the cheek while attempting to hug me.

I rarely find myself at a loss for what to do, but this behavior really threw me.

I fumbled, awkwardly patted him on the back and made some ridiculous comment like: “Well, I guess we’ve been working together long enough to warrant a hug and kiss.”

It gets better.

We walked in chatting, and as the hostess seated us, he informed me that he was very excited about our lunch.  I was a bit surprised by his exuberance, but told him how pleased I was that he was open to meeting and sharing networking contacts.  At this point, ‘Greg’ stepped back, thoroughly perplexed, and asked “Do you know who I am?” I assuredly retorted, “Yes, Greg”.

He said “Kevin”.

It’s at this exact moment when I realized that Kevin was waiting for a date and I was not that person.  The rest was a mix of apologies; embarrassment and a long spotlighted walk past the hostess station—where the real Greg shook my hand in a firm, business-like manner.  This simple act, in sync with my initial expectations and within the framework by which most business relationships behave, immediately put me at ease, ready to move forward with the lunch appointment. As we walked by Kevin and his date, I thought to myself ‘I wonder how Kevin’s expectations are faring?’

The point of it all?

This wasn’t just a case of mistaken identity. It was about perceptions and expectations. As providers of goods and services, Summit projects a framework, very diligently, of what to expect. You do too. This increases the likelihood of our clients’ being in the mood to accept. It’s part of each of our brand’s experience.

We enter with a perception. We believe it and demand it.  So when the experience does not align with your expectations, however that truth plays out for you, the impact is brutal, a bit like meeting your financial analyst and discovering his office is in the back of a carwash. You’d pull back from the handshake or the hug and go looking elsewhere.

So it’s worth examining what you are projecting and how you carry it off. We don’t often consider that our brand experience includes how we meet at lunch—but it absolutely does. If your employees aren’t carrying off your company’s values in their dress and conduct, then don’t bother having them carry the business card.

Now, who wants to buy me lunch next week?

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