A Complete Guide to Customer Perception

Customer Experience | 9 minute read

In the age of social media backlash and call-out culture, customer perception has become more important than ever to a brand’s success.

The current COVID crisis is already impacting customer perceptions of brands. Although it’s almost impossible to completely control what people think about your organization, improving customer perception of your brand is entirely possible.

Here’s your complete guide to improving customer perception of your business.

What is customer perception?

‘Customer perception’ is a term used to describe a consumer or a group of consumers’ thoughts and feelings about a company. It’s the beliefs and opinions that people hold about your business.

Sometimes, public perception of a whole industry can change — we’ve seen this recently with dairycereals, and meat-free alternatives. These are typically generational trends caused by new technology or information about a product.

Why is customer perception important?

Businesses care about customer perception because it directly impacts their bottom-line. A swing in customer opinion may not destroy your business, but it will almost certainly lead to lost revenue, market share, and reputation.

In 2013, a report by Walker indicated that customer experience will overtake product and price as the key differentiators for brands by 2020. They were right.

Late last year, Salesforce reported that a staggering 84% of customers said that the experience a company provides is at least as important as its products or services.
How customers perceive your brand is essential to your success. If you're not investing in improving your customer’s perception of your business, you're going to be left behind. #brandperception #customerperception Click To Tweet
It’s clear that how customers perceive your brand is essential to your success. So if you’re not investing in improving your customer’s perception of your business, you’re going to be left behind.

What influences customer perception?

Customer Experience

The most important factor determining customers’ perceptions is their experience with your brand. This includes the quality of service they receive, the consistency of that service, and the value that they feel that they get from your product.

Everything from your product to brand voice and color will impact how customers feel about your brand. And the customer journey doesn’t end when you make the sale — your level of service post-sale is as (if not more) important than pre-sale.

Marketing

Marketing is technically part of the customer experience, but it includes your wider public image too. Marketing allows you to influence how non-customers perceive your company too.

Traditional advertising can have a huge influence on public attitudes towards your brand.

Something like a super-bowl ad can quickly establish a brand as a big player and therefore ‘more trustable’ very quickly. Consistently producing high-quality, highly-sharable content will establish your brand as a leader in your niche.

Things like sponsoring sporting events form associations in consumers’ minds; RedBull has cemented its place as an ‘Xtreme Sports’ brand very effectively over the last decade. And cozying up to a sports team or an ‘influencer’ in your niche can quickly win you fans of your own by proxy.

Word of Mouth

It’s the hardest to measure but word of mouth is an incredibly important factor in how customers perceive you — especially for small businesses. We often think of word of mouth in the literal sense but these days it’s far more; customer reviews, social media, and micro-blogs are all word of mouth too.

Before social media, there wasn’t much way of telling what people were saying about your company unless you asked them directly. But social media and online reviews are an opportunity to tackle issues and misinformation on a much larger scale.

Take the time to respond to negative reviews — and actually fix them! When people see this, it forms a positive impression and builds trust. The same goes for the content people see about your brand on social media. The most consistent message will be the one that people base their opinion on.

How to Measure Customer Perception of Your Business

Measuring customer perception is tough because it’s both subjective and qualitative data. It’s not as easy to measure as something like FCR; it requires some nuance in your collection and analysis.

In short, there are two ways of finding out how customers perceive your business:

  1. Asking them 
  2. Listening to them 

Ask them with a survey

This is the tried and tested method and I would encourage all brands to do have some sort of Customer Satisfaction or ‘Net Promoter Score’ survey. These help you to gather specific, qualitative information about your CX and can provide some useful actionable metrics.

Listen to what they say when they call you

This is a very rich but frequently overlooked way of gathering customer perception data. Every time a customer contacts you is an opportunity to find out how they feel about your brand. This includes reviews that customers leave as well as times they contact you directly with an issue.

Yes, it’s always useful to drop in a single NPS question at the end of every interaction, but I’m talking about an active listening approach. Train agents to take notes on the ways customers talk about their experience.
You can often improve customer perpections just by listening more. People want to be listened to and are often pleasantly surprised when brands actually do. #customerperceptions #brandperceptions Click To Tweet
Better still, automate it: Many of the Voice AI available are able to gather ‘user sentiment’ data based on the language and tone a customer uses while they’re talking to an agent.

This can also improve customer perception by virtue of the fact that you’re listening; people want to be listened to and are often surprised when brands actually do.

Listen for brand mentions

The other way of ‘listening’ available to brands is listening to online chatter. This predominantly comes in two forms:

1. Social Media

People are talking about your brand all the time on social media — at least 2 million negative comments are posted about brands on social media every day. Many people will look to social media to get another angle on what people think of a brand before deciding on a purchase.

Make sure you respond to direct messages and service requests on social media quickly and carefully because everyone can see what you’re doing. And don’t forget to get involved in conversations that are happening about your brand too. It’s not rude to weigh in if you have something positive to say.

2. Mentions in publications

People don’t just talk about you on social media, they also talk about you in their own blogs, news articles, and other online publications. And — impossible as it may sound — there are plenty of ways to find out when this happens; most notably, Google Alerts.

Put in your brand name and any other keywords you think people will use when talking about you, and Google will notify you when someone posts something online. You can use this to resolve customer service complaints that have been missed — and even create brand evangelists.

But how do you do that?

How to Improve Customers’ Perception of Your Company

Improving how customers perceive your brand is a complicated and lifelong task. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, something will happen that instantly changes how the world regards your brand. That said, if you honestly try your best to deliver a great service, this will go a long way.

Here are some things you should think about if you want to improve how customers regard your company:

Create an awesome customer experience

Creating a great experience for your customers is the core of creating a good perception. Most of the bad things we think about brands come from things that have happened to us, or we’ve heard about happen, during an interaction with a brand. The words ‘United’ or ‘Comcast’ are likely to trigger traumatic memories for many.

Strive to create and experience and product that people want to boast to their friends about.

Strive for consistency

Besides consistency in your customer experience, it’s important to create a consistent image of your brand. Inconsistency will breed distrust. Create brand values that leave no room for misunderstanding about how customers and their problems are treated.

Listen to your customers

As mentioned above, actively listening to your customers is an essential component of creating a positive brand image. When people are talking about their issue with your company, view it as an opportunity to get better instead of something to ‘make go away’.

Forge emotional bonds with customers

This doesn’t mean that you have to send them flowers and love poems. Striking a chord emotionally with your audience will win you customers for life.

Active listening is key to forming close customer relationships. You need to understand the motivations and deeper goals of your customers on an emotional level.
People don't buy a new car because they want something to get them around. They buy a new car to get the girl. Or they buy a new car to better protect their family. Understanding these motivations and you'll create deep emotional bonds.… Click To Tweet
People don’t buy a new car because they want something to get them around. They buy a new car to get the girl. Or they buy a new car to better protect their family. Understanding what customers are saying when they say something like, “This feature makes me feel safe” is key to understanding your target audience and their perceptions of your brand.

Communicate better internally

This is an often-overlooked key issue for bigger, complex businesses such as airlines. Data silos — where customer data is limited to one group within a company — can form because of security restrictions or poor communication. These are a major cause of frustration for customers.

Breaking down customer silos to ensure that customers have seamless interactions with your company is an easy way to cement you as an “organized and competent” brand in customers’ minds.

Customer Perceptions Reflect Your Perceptions

The customer may not always be right, but their feelings about your brand are always “right” in their mind. If you’re consistently failed them, can you really claim that they’re wrong to call you a failure, regardless of how many others you’ve succeeded for?

The toughest thing for many companies to accept is that there are limitations to how much you can control customer perceptions through external means; advertising yourself out of a PR disaster isn’t how you change public perception — you change it through internal action.

This is because customer perceptions reflect how you perceive your customers: Your brand vision and priorities. The people you hire. Even the language you use to talk about customers counts. Are they “fish” to catch or are they “partners” you help grow?

If you’re looking for positive customer perception, the first place you look at is yourself and how you’re treating your customers and employees. Anything less is frivolous.

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