What is Customer Perception and Why is it Important?
Customer behavior is driven by more than logic. The perceptions customers have of your brand, its products or services, and its values can have a serious impact on how they interact with you and how they buy. In fact, fostering positive perceptions can help you build a “sustainable, loyal, and growing customer base,” according to Forbes.[X]
In marketing, ‘customer perception’ refers to customers’ awareness, their impressions, and their opinions about your business, products, and brand. Customer perception is shaped by multiple variables, including direct and indirect interactions with your offerings.
Today, perception impacts buyer decision-making and is a “huge success factor in the retail industry,” Deloitte reports.[X] Brands who monitor and understand customer perception and its contributing factors can better identify opportunities to improve customer experiences. In fact, Forrester defines customer experience (CX) as “your customer’s perceptions of their interactions with your brand”[X]. By 2020, ‘customer experience’ will overtake ‘price’ and ‘product’ as the key brand differentiator, HubSpot reports.[X]
What is the customer perception process?
Modern business leaders emphasize improving customer experiences, but “most companies have no idea if they are creating value for their customers,” Forrester finds[X]. Another Forrester analyst observes that value for customers is actually “customers’ perception of what they get versus what they give up.”[X]
CX professionals who want to see themselves this way—that is, ‘through the eyes of their customers’—must begin by understanding the three phases of the customer perception process. The three stages—sensing, organizing, and reacting—are simple in concept, but difficult to understand in terms of how they truly shape the behavior of consumers and even business buyers:
- Sensing: Characterized by the physical senses, customers use this stage to accumulate ‘knowledge’ about a product, service, or brand. This may apply to facts such as clothing sizes, but also product smells, taste, and touch.
- Organizing: During this stage, customers make sense of the information they’ve attained, interpreting its value based on context, personal beliefs, perceptions of themselves, and other highly subjective factors. At this stage, customers will categorize the object of their critique and compare it to other objects within their chosen categories. For example, a consumer hoping to buy a winter coat may prioritize coats by price, but also color and thickness, during the organizing stage.
- Reacting: Customers will act based on the sensing and organizing stages, but also internal and external stimuli ranging from personal history to online reviews. Although each reaction and its contributing factors are different, buyers tend to go through similar processes of evaluation before making their decision.
CX professionals who understand these three phases are better equipped to impact customer perceptions in a positive way. However, it’s impossible to capitalize on every contributing factor to shape customers’ behavior. As Forrester observes:
“Customers make tradeoffs between these value dimensions. They are willing to give up value in a less important dimension if they get high value in another, more important one. But customers have a threshold for how much they are willing to give up depending on their context.”
Value for Customers: The New Frontier for CX Professionals [X]
Why is customer perception important?
Perception does more than impact each individual sale; it shapes the long-term relationships—good or bad—that customers establish with your brand. As a result, every touchpoint your company has with customers must affect their perception in a positive way.
Businesses that shape positive brand perceptions among customers are more likely to impact potential customers in indirect ways as well and establish themselves as remarkable compared to other brands in their space. As Forbes observes:
“We live in an era where the perception of a brand is no longer reliant on the quality of a product. Instead, a brand’s reputation is reliant on the perceived value to its customers and expands much further than whether or not the product works.”
How The Perception Of A Good Brand Helps Your Company’s Effectiveness [X]
To improve customer experience and differentiate your brand, you must have positive customer perceptions. Brands must therefore understand which elements have the broadest and most profound impact on customer perception. These elements can be both tangible and abstract, but each has the potential to be shaped deliberately by CX professionals.
Some tangible factors that influence customers’ perceptions include:
- Price: Price should always be part of a comprehensive marketing plan. However, marketers must understand that context impacts customers’ perception of its value—lower is not always better, as often seen in luxury markets where it’s reflective of the product’s true worth.
- Quality: Quality can apply to multiple attributes in a product—attributes whose importance will differ from customer to customer. Marketers should understand what feature most distinguishes their products or services, and which are most desirable in target markets.
- Branding: Logos, artwork, and even packaging all deliver a message about your company and your brand. Marketers should ensure these elements meet and exceed customers’ expectations, helping your brand to stand above others.
- Service: Service quality will make or break customer perception, where even companies with superior products miss out if their service is poor. Customers are more likely to write online reviews after highly positive or highly negative service experiences, which can improve or exacerbate brand awareness.
Some less-tangible factors that influence customers’ perceptions include:
- Advertising: What you say about your company, the mediums you choose, and how you deliver your message can drive customers in both positive and negative directions.
- Reputation: Brand reputations are built over time and can be quite durable. They are formed from customer experiences with products and services, but also secondary interactions from third-parties (e.g. media coverage). While marketers attempt to measure their reputations online, sudden events can impact reputation without warning.
- Influencers: Influencers are people whom customers trust, and are among the biggest factors impacting customer perception aside from the customer’s own personal experience. Customers who have firsthand experience with your product, service, or brand are most likely to sway other potential customers during the organizing stage.
Brands have some ability to measure customer perception quantitatively, but this data is best understood and more profound when explained from the customers themselves. Having conversations with customers helps to illuminate customer perceptions by probing and clarifying to uncover the heart of the ‘why’ behind their perceptions.
Start Building your Understanding of Customer Perceptions
“48% of American consumers do not trust businesses—an increase in distrust since 2016. With so much distrust in businesses, marketers have a responsibility to positively influence consumer perceptions, especially if they have a strong value proposition that clearly improves the lives of their customers.”
Forbes, The One Marketing Truism You Cannot Ignore: Perception Is Reality [X]
Discuss.io makes it easy for companies to connect with customers. Our voice (and face) of customer platform has built-in workflows and features to make those connections have a lasting impact.We optimize face-to-face digital interactions with your customers to drive scalability and to put the customer at the heart of your brand. Speak with one of our experts to learn more about how Discuss.io can build your understanding of customer perceptions.
Zach Simmons is the Founder and president of Discuss.io. Zach has 20 years of experience building software. Prior to founding Discuss.io, he was the Technical Product Manager for Amazon Web Services (S3) where he ran the team that built the infrastructure that now powers a significant percentage of the modern Internet. Zach holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
An entrepreneurial leader, Zach is passionate about building disruptive and agile SaaS based market research startups as an alternative to traditional market research. Seeing a need for change within the Industry, Zach launched Discuss.io, bringing Market Research to the digital age.