• Posted in April 2014
  • Article written by Michael Carroll

Cognitive Filters, Building a Reputation for Excellence

In Neuro Linguistic Programming we say our attention is directed by our ‘filters’. Filters help us cognitively divide up and categorise the world. Our personal experiences determine how we filter the world and these can operate on the cultural, family and individual level.  In this article, I am going to write about how important it is for a company to create a positive filter in the minds of their customers through customer service to build brand awareness and customer loyalty.

Filters are present in all contexts of our lives and have a huge impact on our perception which in turn has a huge impact on how we live. For example when a person is phobic, they have a filter for the stimuli that evokes the phobia. A child may watch their mother’s spider phobia and then unconsciously adopt it themselves. In doing so they create a filter to see spiders even when quite far way. So when a spider comes into their peripheral vision, they instantly see it and react. A person without this phobia would probably find that the spider would be below their conscious radar. A phobia is quite a strong response; some businesses evoke very strong and consistent responses in consumers which can either be positive or negative.

When a company builds a solid brand, the brand becomes a filter in the market it operates in. It influences what people pay attention to in the product experience.  Customers have an individual experience with a brand and when enough people had a similar experience a ‘consumer filter’ is established which is generalised and shared in the market place.  Each person does not have to experience the brand directly; the filter is influenced by word of mouth, the company can connect with and influence the consumer’s filters through advertising and marketing.

If we look at some well known brands, Harrods is synonym for luxury, Virgin innovation and customer service and Aldi for cheap goods. I have never shopped in Aldi, yet I share the public filter which comes from Aldi’s marketing and the public discourse regarding shopping.  If someone had never heard of these brands and were experiencing them for the first time, they would form their own filter based on their personal experience. If the filter resonated with the person’s values, he/she would become a repeat buyer and join the public discourse which created the filter. In this example, the company has succeeded in building brand loyalty.

In the physical world a filter is a sieve that catches particles of a certain type or size, obviously human beings do not have sieve like objects in their brain, in NLP we are using the term filter metaphorically to describe how something captures and holds our attention. I will now turn to my own filters based on two airline companies operating in the same market.

I think we can all agree, over the last 15 - 20 years the world of airline travel has changed radically.  Budget airlines have added to the amount of choice we have in terms of when we travel, and how we travel. These airlines have brought traffic to smaller airports bringing the economic benefits of tourism to regions away from the larger city airports as well as creating thousands of jobs directly in the airline industry. So in terms of economics and choice, budget airlines have been a valuable addition to the travel world.

I have noticed there are different ways of doing budget in any business. Budget does not have to be a synonym for bad service. The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ need not be a descriptor for poor customer service. In fact, budget prices are a very poor excuse for bad customer service.  It’s true that price might determine the ‘level’ of service, there is still service implied. Back about three years ago, I made a conscious decision not to fly RyanAir, there was not a specific incident that led to this choice, I would say just many experiences where the crew were sullen, there were several charges too many on a misleading website, and add in Michael O’Leary’s (RyanAir CEO) arrogance and blatant disregard for the people, his customers who made him a billionaire, I thought I have no customer loyalty to this man, or firm, they give an impression they don’t like their customers and I certainly don’t like them. What’s more if you do research it seems as they don’t like their staff. Their staff, from my observations are not happy in their work.

I live 15 minutes from Gatwick Airport and as a person who has a home and business in Murcia Spain, Easy Jet and RyanAir fly to my destination airport and both fly at times of the day which suit me, and I choose Easy Jet every time, well nearly every time.  My experience of Easy Jet is well trained staff, who smile at you when they ‘serve’ you and from a customer service perspective I find them outstanding. I can say hand on heart I forget I am flying budget when on Easy Jet.

So this weekend, I did something different, I flew RyanAir, as I was at the Airport, I was waiting for sullen staff, being charged £40.00 extra because my luggage being one gram over the prescribed amount, no change or wrong change from the cabin crew. I asked myself, why I am I thinking this way? Nothing has happened……. yet. Put simply, I had filter that will influence my experience regardless of RyanAir’s performance. I have a strong positive filter for brand, it will filter out times when they are not good.

In cases like this, you are expecting something to happen, you start to look for problems and filter out (delete) from experience the reverse of the filter, in this case good service. The reverse is also true, if I have a strong positive filter towards a brand, it will filter out the bad experiences, so I truly believe the company is excellent.

Building a brand that sets up a customer service filter:

  • Be clear about what you are offering and what you are not offering. It’s OK to be low priced with a reduced service. It’s OK to be high end with an impeccable service
  • Have a vision for the business
  • Make sure all processes within the business support the vision
  • Be consistent, ensure your web communication, written communication, verbal communication are consistent, so there is no confusion
  • Do not be petty
  • Show your customers you care
  • Let your business tell the story so that story is repeated by your customers to their network of friends and associates

NLP began its life a system for modelling excellence. If you know a company (or individual) who are excellent in what they produce and customer service, model them. If you know a company or individual who is terrible when it comes to customer service, reverse model them (don’t do what they do).

I will be going to Spain again this weekend, I might even travel British Airways and see what filters they are creating. On another note, when I was in Spain last week I shot this video, about our NLP in the Sun courses, I hope you like it.


About The Author

Michael Carroll is the founder and course director of the NLP Academy and co-founder with John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair of the International Trainers Academy of NLP.

He is the only NLP Master Trainer in the world certified by John Grinder and Carmen Bostic St Clair and he works closely with them in developing and delivering high quality NLP training.



  • Excellent course and great support from Michael throughout. I’d recommend this to anyone who would like to work more effectively with people, or improve their focus and gain clarity on goals and ways to make them happen.

    Natasha May
  •