Customer perception plays a vital role in a company’s ability to attract new customers and to retain existing customers. The good news is that companies have the ability to control many of the factors that build an individual’s perception of the company/brand.
What is customer perception?
The formal definition of customer perception is, “A marketing concept that encompasses a customer’s impression, awareness and/or consciousness about a company or its offerings.”
To put it simply, customer perception is what your customers and potential customers think of your organization. This perception directly impacts the attraction of new customers and the capacity to maintain good relationships with current customers.
Why is customer perception important?
In today’s digital age, virtually everything is a Google search away. This makes your goods and services easier to find, but the tradeoff is that your competition is easier to find as well. That means it’s easier for unhappy or unsatisfied customers to leave.
Consumers want good quality, but they also want to know they are getting good value. That value isn’t just judged by the product or service they are purchasing, but by the availability and usability of the customer service that supports it.
It’s just not enough anymore to have brand recognition, consumers want to feel good about a brand and company. They want to do business with civic-minded corporations with positive world views.
What influences customer perception?
Knowing first what influences customer perception allows you to secure your organization’s perceived identity.
Some factors that influence individual’s perceptions include:
- Advertising – The campaigns your company runs offer implied perceptions about your products. What you say about your brand/company and the messages you deliver help others form opinions.
- Influencers – The people that surround an individual have a massive impact on their decisions. Whether they be in person or via social media, human nature is such that individuals listen to the opinions and thoughts of those around them.
- Personal experience – This is the biggest of all factors that weigh in to customer perception. If someone has experienced firsthand the quality of a product or service or the responsiveness and usefulness of a customer service channel, it will positively or negatively impact their perception.
How can you work to create/maintain a positive customer perception?
So now that we’ve outlined what customer perception is and what influences customer perception, let’s discuss how to create and maintain positive customer perception.
Companies have the tools to create a positive experience for their customers and even when unforeseen events create negative impressions, the best organizations rise to the challenge and can often win back an unhappy customer.
It all begins by managing some foundational factors within the company’s control.
- Don’t make false promises – Companies should strive for truth in advertising and truth in general communication. If you say a product does something, make sure it ACTUALLY does it and when someone calls your customer service department and you tell them you can help, make sure they do just that.
- Listen – Sounds easy enough but this can be a challenge for some organizations. When customers talk (online, in person, on the phone), listen. When what a client is saying is complaint related, it’s easy to stop listening when you think you know the answer but it’s important to listen to what customer’s expressed need is and then make sure your solution fits the problem.
- Communicate – Quickly, clearly and often. Train your agents and representatives to be knowledgeable, compassionate and responsive when communicating with your customers. Ensure they are providing facts not excuses.
- Use your social channels effectively – Social media presents unique opportunities and challenges for communication. Many social channels actually track a company’s responsiveness to customers and rate them. In addition social media creates an open forum for customer complain. The vocal minority can seemingly hijack your good name, but it is possible to take negative comments and demonstrate positive outcomes. Responding quickly and with knowledge and compassion can not only result in a favorable outcome with the situation at hand but increase positive feelings about your company with the casual observers on the channel. Be proactive when a negative review posts and work to rectify the issue openly when possible.
- Streamline – Wherever possible, make the decision making process easier. Are your product/service benefit statements clear? Can existing and potential customers easily see how you stack up against the competition? Make purchasing and customer service easy and don’t make customers jump through hoops to get resolution. This just exacerbates the problem. If you can offer solutions that demonstrate you know your customer’s time is valuable you make it easy to keep doing business with your company. Offering quick response, centralizing information to prevent the need for re-explaining issues and utilizing call back technology are just some of the ways you can improve the perception of your company.
- Never get complacent – It’s easy to get comfortable when everything appears to be going well, but push your company to keep measuring your customer’s satisfaction and keep training your teams. Both internally and externally, ask questions and learn from situations that have occurred.
Customer perception is about feeling and fact. From the first touchpoint to last, the entire company is involved in this perception and can contribute to it in a positive way.
Customers not only need to feel good about your brand/company and its service, they need to be treated well and the products and services need to perform as advertised. When problems occur, manage expectations, communicate effectively and work to resolve the issue while ensuring you make the customer feel valued and respected. It will always be easier and more cost effective to create an environment for positive customer perception from the beginning of the customer journey than it is to fix a negative perception.