What is customer perception?
In most instances, before we even engage with a brand or business, we’ve already formed some idea of what the experience will be like and what we would want it to be like. Our perceptions precede the experience and ultimately shape our response.
Take a box of chocolates at a chocolatier, for example — before experiencing the contents, we all have expectations of what might be delivered. These expectations are influenced by different drivers, such as the quality of the chocolates and the overall costs, and our own beliefs (which may or may not have been affected by what we’ve seen or heard already).
We may have seen reviews online that rave about the chocolates, reinforcing our expectations that they are indeed good and worth buying. All of this contributes to our perception of the experience and future brand loyalty.
The fact is that consumer beliefs, expectations, and sentiment towards a product, service, or offering are directly linked to how they perceive their experience with you. If you ignore the actual experience as well as how it’s perceived, you risk doing harm to the long-term image and health of your business and brand.
But despite the clear pitfalls, this is precisely why so many brands and businesses often miss the mark: they have an idea of what they feel their consumers are interested in, while the reality is far different.
Why is customer perception important?
As consumer beliefs, expectations, and feelings towards brands, products, or services are linked to how they perceive their experience, ensuring you meet those expectations correlates with your overall success.
This means that every time a consumer or customer has contact with your brand, the experience has to meet their expectations – doing so ensures their perception of you is a positive one.
Positive customer perceptions can influence whether your customers believe your values are similar to theirs and whether they can trust your brand to meet their needs. This can influence whether customers return to purchase more, or whether they choose a competitor. Three loyalty metrics – customer satisfaction, likelihood to recommend, and likelihood to purchase more – can be affected by the perception a customer has of you. This makes the customer experience so important.
The impact of how customers perceive experience
Consumers’ beliefs, expectations, and feelings toward your brand, product, or service are directly linked to how they perceive their experience with you. These perceived experiences are affected by prior expectations and beliefs, subsequently influencing future engagements.
If we ignore the actual experience as well as the customer perception of that experience, we risk doing harm to the long-term health of our business and our brand.
A good personal experience can trump other views and begin to change the wider perception as well. If a buyer has had a great customer experience, they may advocate for you through word of mouth and reviews, changing public perception for the better as well.
Above all, the customer experience needs to dovetail with the image you portray. If there’s a gap between how customers experience your brand and their perception of your brand, issues can arise.
For example, if a customer believes your brand cares about excellent customer service because of the marketing you put out, but their personal experience has been the opposite, it can negatively impact their chance of repurchasing.
What other factors influence customer perception?
If your customers have a positive experience with your brand, they’re more likely to recommend your company to others. Online reviews can be the first point of contact your company might have with customers who are searching for products and services – and what they find can greatly influence their perception of your brand.
The first time a customer might encounter your brand is through your marketing. Advertising, social media posts, and more are also effective at keeping your brand top-of-mind and portraying your brand in a desirable way. Cultivating a good public image and perhaps combating negative brand perception can be helped greatly by a solid marketing strategy.
Often influencer marketing works in tandem with your wider marketing strategy, which might include social media advertising and other mediums such as TV or Out of home. Influencer marketing works on the theory that people are more likely to do something if others do – social proofing. Using experts on the topic or industry to advocate for your brand or product – either to niche audiences or the mass market – helps validate your offering.
However, whilst you can use influencers with sway over your customers to create a good perception of your brand, this approach can’t fix all your problems. Ensure your experience lives up to the hype across every channel – including customer support, online platforms, and in-store – to help create, and maintain, a positive customer perception.
Even if your customer has a positive perception of your brand and public image, this can quickly go wrong if they encounter a problem with a product or service. How your customer support responds to an issue can be the difference between a customer maintaining a good view of your brand and finding an alternative.
Your brand values can often define your public image. Many brands such as Patagonia, Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, and Truist put their values at the heart of what they do and the products and services they sell. Customers may decide to purchase from you based on your values and what you stand for, so make your brand values a part of your business and allow them to define your customer perception.
How to measure customer perception
We’ve already focused on how to develop brand value through brand perception. But customer perception is very nuanced, and pinning down how exactly customers feel about and view your brand requires several different approaches.
Take the temperature of online reviews
Gathering data from online reviews can help you to determine how your company is perceived by customers who’ve been motivated to post online. Positive or negative reviews can strongly influence whether a potential customer will choose you – so make sure you’ve got tools in place to capture reviews on platforms you don’t control, and a plan in place to fix issues highlighted.
Analyze website and search data
Using O-data – such as website traffic – can help you to see if customers are searching directly for your brand, and how they are discovering your content. You’ll be able to see the points of friction in the customer journey that customers are experiencing – for example, are your website visitors leaving at the point of sale? By analyzing this data, you should be able to see what might be contributing to a good or bad view of your brand.
Look at your marketing data
Your marketing can be instrumental in forming a positive customer perception. By looking at your marketing data – such as email open rates and click rates – you can see who is responding to your marketing output. Charting the path between your marketing and sales can help you see if your marketing and digital presence are leading to greater sales. If your marketing is working, it’s likely there’s a good perception of your brand. If one customer segment is under-performing, perhaps there is a perception issue where they don’t trust in your business to meet their needs that should be addressed
Assess your brand identity
The look and feel of your website and other channels can determine your customer perception. If your website is well presented, clearly shows what you sell and how it can help the customer, you’ll be in a much stronger position.
Make sure your website and other channels have the information your customers need about your products and services For example, is your website missing vital product accreditation required in your industry? Anticipate what customers expect to see, and make sure you can deliver that.
Send out customer opinion surveys
Of course, gathering feedback directly from customers can help to crystalize exactly how they perceive your brand. Using various customer experience metrics – such as NPS, CSAT, and more – can help you to see in specific terms how your customer views your brand. Even better is a customer opinion survey that allows for open text responses, so your customer can tell you in their own words what they like and don’t like about your brand.
How to improve customer perception
Create impactful customer experiences
As mentioned, personal customer experiences can greatly influence your customer perception and your public image. By creating impactful customer experiences, you can shape the positive customer perception of your brand not only with individuals but with those who read the reviews they leave and the social media posts they make.
Act on feedback
Using the customer feedback and data you gather to change how customers feel and experience your brand can be the difference between your business stagnating and moving with the times. Customer needs and opinions will change over time, so taking customer feedback into account and making the appropriate changes will help you to stay current. It’ll also mean that new customers get the best experience from you.
Consumer perception can change very quickly with one bad experience. By focusing on providing consistently good service and products that meet expectations, you can ensure that customer perception has little reason to waver.
Make sure all your teams work together
Though your marketing and sales teams might have direct contact with potential customers, your whole team needs to be aware of what influences customer perception. Your public image depends on your customer experience matching your brand values and your customer perception, so everyone – from product developers to senior management – needs to make sure the work they produce meets these standards too.