Understanding and Managing Customer Perception
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Perception is reality for the individual.
The way we think of ourselves has, sometimes obvious, sometimes surprising effects on our market decisions. Whether we think of ourselves as successful or not, rich or not, beautiful or not, safe or not – in a complex way these axes determine our profiles as buyers.
We perceive our experiences and our possessions as extensions of ourselves, as extensions of our personality.
‘I am free, therefore I am driving an expensive sports car’. ‘I am a busy businesswoman, therefore I am shopping from a high brand coffee shop’. ‘I am an environmentalist in my soul and therefore I only shop from eco-friendly brands’.
And brands can and should create, manipulate and manage the image they create of themselves for their customers.
There are two main schools of thought about customer perception. Organizations can either decide on their target market and align their image to match a favorable picture for that target market, or decide on the image of their brand and their product and manipulate customer perception in order to be seen as the choice of the individual.
If you want to learn more about customer perceptions, the channels through which it can be managed and the traps and tricks of customer perception management, continue reading.
WHAT IS CUSTOMER PERCEPTION?
Customer perception’s most common definition is:
‘A marketing concept that encompasses a customer’s impression, awareness and/or consciousness about a company or its offerings.’
You can assess customer perception regardless of whether or not the customer has heard of the product or service, whether or not their opinion is positive or negative, whether or not they have made a purchase.
You can start building positive customer perception before you introduce the product, while you are conceptualizing it, at the time of purchase, or even post-purchase.
HOW TO MANAGE CUSTOMER PERCEPTION?
Advertising might not be the biggest decision factor for a customer perception, but they would be the first thing that would start shaping their opinion of your organization, or your products.
Advertising is the basis. It starts from creating the product the way you want it to look like, to sound, to smell. The nuance in color, the texture, the pleasure to the touch.
The feeling you want to create in the customer when they hold it in their hands. How your product or your service will make their life better, easier, more luxurious, more meaningful.
Advertising is the best channel to build customer perception about the values and the purpose of your brand. Create exposure for the variety of your products.
First, you need to create exposure. The channels you chose to reach out to your potential customers is the first step towards building customer perception. Do your customers listen to the radio? Do they watch TV? Do they spend hours on the Internet? Which influencers are they interested in? Saturate the channel with information about your product.
TV advertisement is expensive. Therefore, TV would be the best place to advertise high-end products. It will be, however, a bad place to advertise digital products. You want to advertise them on the Internet – where you click on the ad, pay and start downloading the product in seconds. Niche products for IT experts cannot be advertised on TV. The customer cannot perceive they are purchasing a product for the masses.
Second, grab their attention. This is the step between being aware of the product and actually considering it. Alert the customer with a message that would speak to them. Attend to the senses you find more successful in passing your idea across.
Third, manage the interpretation. Tell the customer all they need to know about using your product – the benefits they will reap from using it. It is perfect, and it is perfect for them. Align the product with who they are and who they want to be. Tell them, show them how to use it in their life – in your video ads, in your posters in the subway stations, in your AdSense graphics.
How to use advertising to manage customer perception?
- Right from the start. You need to make sure you stand out and offer a unique product. In order to have a message that will grab the attention, your product has to be like no other. And not just that, the difference has to be for the better. Not just a needless alteration. Create focus groups, go through feedback from your previous launches or versions of the product. Study the competition. Look deep into your product and produce a unique profile. Then communicate it to your customers. It is a simple message. ‘This is how we are different and this is why we are different’. It is up to you how close you decide to stay to that example, but make sure ultimately this is the perceived message.
- Do not make false promises. Resorting to false promises or false fame is a sin common for brands and products that do not have a lot of unique features. Stay away from superlatives. Are you sure your service is ‘the best’? Does your product ‘always’ work? Do you really offer a ‘lifetime’ guarantee? Your market (and in some cases the authorities) will want you to back up those claims with facts – focus groups, research, studies and tests are your best friend to build your credibility. Post those on your website and have your sources on your ads. Small print would do. Building an image of a brand with integrity is an investment in this AND your future products.
- Do not be afraid to edit your message. So your launch was a flop. You falsely interpreted the expectations of the market towards your product, your unique features were not appreciated. Your product had unexpected flaws. You cannot continue on the same path. You need to change your message. It doesn’t matter if your message is already on the packaging, or you paid lots of money to celebrities and influencers to endorse your product. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. Slowly but steadily create a new logic in your message. Always start from the original – you cannot erase your initial intention. Gradually build your story until you are completely aligned with your customers’ expectations.
- Get closer. Make sure you know your customers. Personalize your message. Digital advertising gives you a lot of freedom to reach out to communities with particular interests, of particular background or on location. Control your communication. In a world of vicious competition, you are trying to capture the attention of the individual. You need an individual approach.
The messages in advertising mainly come from the brand. However, customer perception is more and more often formed by peer opinion, rather than official brand messages.
Customer reviews are the best channel to build customer perception about the quality of your product, and the level of satisfaction with personal experience.
Because of social media, the importance of customer experiences and reviews is raising. As a potential customer, the stories of thousands of other users with the brand and its products are just one Google search away.
The average rating of online reviews can often be the ultimate test. Comparison between brands for a lot of products is becoming easy and numerical rather than complex and analytical.
If we follow this logic, than why would we believe the brand and their message rather than easy to compare online reviews?
In some cases, we can even filter out the best product for us, with a few clicks, all user-generated.
Entire business models are arising that will digitalize competition, process customer reviews and allow us to find the perfect product or service.
Let’s take one of those business models. Say, you are looking for a hotel for your visit. In Booking.com you can filter out the best hotel for your vacation or business trip based on:
- Property type
- Availability dates
- Room size and number of beds
- Budget per night
- Distance from landmarks
- Cancellation policy
- Amenities (Sauna, Spa, Fitness, etc.)
- Wi-Fi availability and many others
Once the customer has filtered out the must-haves, come the results, by customer-generated rating.
How to use customer reviews to manage customer perception?
- Do not underestimate customer reviews. In the digital age customer reviews are the most important decision factor. Why believe the seller? They have an incentive to offer the worst product at the highest price. Customers’ incentive is to share stories. It makes the most sense to look for customer with the same demands and needs and find out what their experience was. Customer reviews are the best tool to for a potential user to know in advance if the price is worthy, if the product is of sufficient quality or if the service would work for them.
- Get a lot of them, but organically! You will find multiple offers on the internet to get you large volumes of likes, shares, views, high scores or fake customer reviews. 4 words. Do. Not. Do. It! First off, more often than not the platform you are working with will have mechanisms against that sort of fraud. You are risking being temporarily banned, fined or even being permanently unlisted. And, second, users have their way of recognizing ingenuine customer reviews. Even if they don’t, having a class-A online rating and poor service or product will only make the backlash that much more dramatic. You may experience a temporary high, followed by a critical, fatal low.
- Incentivize good reviews. If you cannot fake it, you will need to give a reason to your customers to review your products. Yes, can you imagine that, even if they love your product, a user can be perfectly content with their life without shouting from the rooftops how happy you made them? There is more to it. Unfortunately, people feel a higher urge to share bad experiences, than they do good ones. Meaning, you may have 10% unhappy customers, and 90% happy customers and your reviews could be completely balanced. The bad reviews would dull out the good ones. You cannot afford this asymmetry of reality to perception. Offer a free addon, a free trial, a free extension and any other stimulus you could think of, to encourage everyone to review.
- Pay attention to bad reviews. The product was not received? Poor customer service or customer support? The product did not look as expected? The service took longer than expected? Reach out to the customer. Tell them you observe your customer reviews closely and take care of the online presence of your brand. Offer them to rectify the situation in any possible way – can you offer them a discount for future purchases, throw in a bonus product, or get them in touch with one of your top specialists to finally resolve their customer support issue? Invest in your policy. Have someone exclusively look over your customer reviews and give them the power to be able to satisfy the customer. Keep communication open until you have a resolution. Then ask the customer if they will consider adding an update to their review and if they will reconsider the score they had given you.
According to The Institute for Public Relations, a new age has come in Public relations since the digital has entered our lives. It has given a tool to all customers to share their opinion on air. Social media creates a platform for information to go viral.
Public relations are the best channel to build customer perception about the social responsibility of your brand. You are the brand that always takes the right position on polarizing social topics.
It is a scary perspective, but the speed with which information can gain popularity, travel around the globe and penetrate the social discourse is astounding. And it leaves organizations at a constant risk of their carefully built image being completely disintegrated overnight.
The truth is with opinions switching and moving so quickly, brands have dramatically less time for disaster management. The perception of a brand can now change so drastically and in large scale when exposed to poor marketing tactics, questionable political statement or a viral video.
United Airlines was involved in an accident where a security official violently removed an unwilling passenger after them being asked to leave voluntarily because their flight seat was double-booked. 53% of consumers reported they are less likely to travel with United Airlines after the accident.
On the opposite side of the coin, the fans of Pepsi were more forgiving. Because of their long-term affiliation with the brand 77% say they are unaffected by the controversial advertisement with Kylie Jenner, where it seems the brand makes light of police violence protests of Black Lives Matter activists.
Why? Pepsi reacts immediately to the public outrage. The company does an official statement they did not intend to make light of such serious issues and pulled the advertisement from air less than 24 hours after originally releasing it.
How to use public relations to manage customer perception?
- Observe. The question is no longer just ‘Who are our customers?’ or ‘Who do our customers want to be?’. The question is also about how customers align themselves in polarizing topics. As is the case with Pepsi, recent events that look unrelated have to be carefully considered. While Pepsi is trying to catch the wind of an organic switch of public attention to a controversial topic, the same public consider Pepsi’s actions as trying to monetize serious events.
- React quickly. In a world where one accident can make you or break you overnight, it is your responsibility to react fast and thoroughly. Do not defend unpopular decisions. Cease and desist. Apologize. Learn a lesson.
- Focus on reinforcing the positive. Studies tell us that regardless of how detrimental negative PR can be for your brand, positive PR has even more significant effect on your customer loyalty.
Social media is the strongest platform where you can sway the customer opinion towards one or other direction. According to Clutch, 52% of consumers spend their time using social media more than any other media outlet.
Social media is the best channel to build customer perception about the character of your brand. You are ‘the brand that listens’. You can be held accountable and are always responsive to your community.
Instant gratification. Whereas with advertisement and PR your messages are carefully crafted and take relatively long time to reach the public, social media users are accustomed to short messages, quick reactions and interactive communication flow, which allows you to use it as the fastest way to get to a large audience.
Personalized following. TV commercials may give you a lot of exposure to new audiences, but they could also give you wasted budget on an uninterested crowd. Social media allows you to reach groups that are already tuned in to hear what you have to say or show.
Global reach. TV, radio and other types of local advertisement will only get you that far. If you want to reach your entire community, the easiest way to do it is via social media.
Low budget. Once you have built your audience you can reach them on social media for free.
Personal touch. Social media is interactive. It means you can A) observe the reaction to your messages in real time and B) mitigate bad response when you see one. You can establish a connection with the customer, get feedback and respond to constructive criticism. It is the perfect tool to build an image of ‘the brand that listens’.
Consistency. Most social media platforms will allow you to schedule your posts and messages so you can regularly reach out to your audience and keep your communication open. You can use apps and statistics for the biggest platforms to learn when and what to post to reach the best engagement.
How to use social media to manage customer perception?
- Honesty, transparency and trust. Use social media for its ability to offer personal touch to your customers. Be responsive. Be open for communication. Accept constructive criticism, feature requests and appraisal. Show responsibility and prove yourself accountable for mistakes.
- Variety of expression. Use images, video, text. Share news and events that are compatible with your vision and values. People pay attention to different types of content – some perceive messages better when they are written. Some are more open to visual means – images and video. Some are open to music and dialogue. Some respond better to serious topics, other to humor or maybe content, evoking emotion.
- Be consistent. Schedule your posts and reach out regularly. Trust your statistics. Do tests. Don’t overdo it. Sometimes often is too often. Aim for optimum engagement.
- Be inclusive. When you build your content, you need to make sure you are speaking to your entire audience. Think carefully if crafting your message to match your target does not exclude people from different background, different countries, economic status, political views or ethnicity.
Learn more about working on your public relations via social media:
The basics of personal experience is all about personalization – being responsive and being flexible.
Personal experiences are the best way to build customer loyalty. If you can be the brand that aims to make each individual happy, they will stick to you.
Your strategy involves 6 simple steps.
- Analyze what your brand offers and what your customers need – where do you meet?
- Categorize customer demand and make sure you are able to respond to each need with either the same product or different features or variations of your product.
- Make sure you are able to identify the occasion for each sale or experience – you already know what kinds of customers you will meet, now you need to recognize which type they are as soon as they make first contact.
- Make sure you have the resources to offer the right variation to the right customer.
- Offer continuous support – make sure you resolve every issue that arises.
- Go the extra mile. Throw in a free bonus, a next-purchase discount or a coupon code for affiliation. Tell your customer they are more than a deal for you. You really want to make them happy.
How to use personal experiences to manage customer perception?
- Personalize customer experiences. Whenever it is possible, aim for in-person interaction. Encourage in-store consultants to engage with customers and offer them the best products. If you are offering digital products or services, enable a live-chat consultant.
- Analysis. Use data analysis to predict the needs of your customers, their demands, the possible issues and also peaks and lows in demand. First, make sure you have the legalities worked out. There are tough regulation on data analysis. Get consent from your customers to use purchase and interaction data and start gathering right away. Aggregate data with other open sources and use automated predictive analysis to better distribute your resources to always be prepared to offer the best customer experience.
With managing customer perception, knowledge is power. Before you can become the organization customers love and prefer and are loyal to, you need to know who your customers are, who do they want to be, what are their issues and how they expect you to resolve them.
Customer perception is very complex and comes from a place that is NOT on the market. The perception of your organization may depend on, or vary based on: the customer’s background, their income, their self-worth and their perception of themselves, their political or social views, their social group.
There will always be a customer base you can never reach and never sway in your favor. The game of customer perception can only be played in a Venn diagram between who you are and who the market is.
All you can do is manage your brand image and customer perception to bring those two together, and build a larger area for you to meet.
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