I have allergies. Really, really bad allergies. Recently my situation has worsened, so I decided to pay the allergy specialist I see another visit. This doctor works at two clinics, one of which happens to be very close to a new client of mine. For convenience, I decided to visit him there this week instead of the Marina based clinic where I met him. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. After all, it’s the same doctor right?

The second clinic is located in a neighborhood on Al-Wasl road, nestled among dozens of other clinics and beauty centers. Lacking adequate signage, it was extremely difficult to even notice unless you were intently searching for it. When I finally did find it, I entered into what felt like an uncle’s living room. Big plush couches filled the waiting room and mid-range artwork hung on the wall. It was a stark contrast to the sleek waiting room that overlooks the yachts in the marina where I usually wait for this doctor.

In Jumeirah, it’s common for businesses to be housed in villas rather than purpose built locations. The key is to ensure the villa doesn’t still look like someone’s house. This clinic failed at that. Little had been done to adapt the interior to look like a clinic.  The bathroom had old fashioned tiling on the wall and a cloth towel hanging on the rack (hygiene anyone…?). Much of the clinic’s equipment was shoved away into closets that look like the closets where I hide the stuff I promised my husband I’d give away. There was nothing modern or sterile about this clinic, which are two words that should immediately jump to mind when entering a medical establishment.

I began to doubt the level of service I was going to receive. As soon as that thought crossed my mind I remembered: it’s the same exact doctor I’ve been seeing for two years. Why would the consultation be of lower quality simply because we’re in a different location?

In reality it wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean that the overall experience and “packaging” of the consultation didn’t impact my perception. Had I not visited this doctor in the pristine Marina clinic before, I am sure that I would have doubted his skills simply by judging the surroundings in which he works. This would be unfair, of course, because he’s without a doubt the leading allergist in the UAE (and I’ve tried them all).

But life isn’t fair, and marketing isn’t either. Perception is reality, and we must ensure that the value that we project to our clients about our products actually reflects or even exceeds the actual value. If our image does not match our quality, we undoubtedly lose potential business. This doctor’s services are the same “product” in both environments he works in, but they are not perceived that way to a first time patient.

We don’t always have the opportunity to explain our value to clients, and they shape much of their judgements based on how we present ourselves. Don’t underestimate packaging, and don’t underestimate image, because they both unconsciously impact the client’s overall judgement of your product or service. Invest the money to upgrade your curtains, ensure your staff are wearing premium uniforms, and do whatever it takes to create an environment that improves the overall experience.