Managing Customer Perceptions is not a Battle

“The customer perceives service in his or her own terms.” – Arch McGill

While the title of this exposition says that managing customer perceptions is not a battle, the fact is that many companies still struggle with it. Managing customer perceptions is no mean task especially since they are highly subjective and constantly changing. The reason for the rapid changes in customer expectations and perceptions is the spurt in the number of competitors, with promises to provide better and more efficient products and services. Customers always seek more and tend to pay more attention to companies that come up with innovative and creative products. As long as a company is able to manage these expectations, managing customer perceptions would be a lot easier. The harsh reality is that one negative experience is usually enough to turn the customer’s perception against the company. On the other hand, in order to keep a customer’s perception in favour of the company, many positive experiences would need to take place. It therefore, is crucial for any company to provide exceptional customer service consistently if they are to be successful in managing customer perceptions in their favour.

With the world ‘connected’ online, companies cannot afford to ignore customers and their issues – it will be visible to everyone resulting in negativity not just from the customer base but also from prospective ones. More than positive, companies must remain alert especially to negative perceptions as these can tarnish the reputation of the company, more so if the feedback has to do with service and quality of products. We believe that the main reason to conduct surveys and polls for any company should be with the view to get better at managing customer perceptions. The responses that companies provide usually come as a big shock / surprise to companies as the customer’s perceptions via their responses could be diametrically opposite to what the company would have believed. Companies must pay specific attention to feedback that may be negative, in order to tackle and manage them immediately and effectively. Letting these issues lie unattended could wreak havoc on a company – spiralling the negativity out of control.  If a company expects to keep its customers, managing customer perceptions cannot be ignored.

As mentioned, customer loyalty is now ephemeral given that they have far too many choices and options, giving them enough leeway to connect with a company as and when they want and have the ability to choose the duration of the association. One negative experience could change a positive perception into a deep-seated negative one and therefore it has become critical for companies to have robust strategies in place to help them in managing customer perceptions. Companies focus their attention on building relationships through promotional events and issues surrounding customer satisfaction. However, while these activities are required, the truth is that customer satisfaction no longer translates to loyalty – the reasons for which are many. Customer satisfaction is a must-have since it would mean that the company has been able to meet the expectations of the customer and that the customer is okay to keep the association. However, the danger for the company lies in the fact that competitors are always on the look-out for customers they can ‘steal’ and as soon as they can provide something even incrementally better, your company would certainly lose those ‘satisfied’ customers.

Customer satisfaction also means that no one is complaining – however, it is not the true reflection of customers actually feel. It would be beneficial for a company to dig deep and understand the mind-set of the customer and by doing so would be more equipped in managing customer expectations. As companies get better at understanding perceptions, they would be able to provide customers with the kind of service, product quality and pricing that would turn them into loyal, raving fans of the company. In managing customer expectations, a company would be able to build on the positive ones and do away with negative ones before they become reasons for customer churn. As customers perceive the company’s commitment to understand and exceed their expectations, they become more engaged and are willing to work towards building an emotional connection with the company. This is in turn means that they would not only provide repeat business, but also refer the company to others at every opportunity they get.

In managing customer expectations, a company can gain some amount of control on the customer’s mind-set, moving it towards liking and trusting the company more than any other. A company would be able to cement the customer’s preference in its favour such that they would be willing to buy from the company even if they were required to pay slightly more than the other products in the market. By managing customer expectations a company is able to veer the customer to making an emotional decision while buying rather than a rational one – it is the ability to make the customer ‘feel’ for the product / brand and willingly and frequently advocate its use to others. When a customer feels so strongly about a company and its products, it becomes the best form of promotion and advertisement for the company and is far more potent than any other method.

By managing customer expectations, a company would be able to help customers establish a connection of positivity with its products as compared to other similar products available in the market. We know that customers make a lot of buying decisions based on emotions and in today’s competitive marketplace it is imperative that the customer-company relationship is friendly, responsive and interactive. Companies would need to focus consistently on meeting personal preferences and expectations of customers, such that the relationship goes beyond just the business one. By managing customer expectations a company can show customers the value of doing business with it, let them know early on why loyalty would result in more benefits than their actual investment and what additional advantages they can derive over the duration of their association. In the cutthroat business environment of today, a company that succeeds in managing customer expectations would not only gain competitive advantage but also sustain it for a very long time.

As we said earlier, customer perceptions are volatile and completely subjective to the relationship they share with the company. In the initial stages of the relationship, the customer’s perception would probably be more fluid since they would not have established a sense of trust or dependability with the company. Unless the company works on building this trust, the customer’s perception could go in any direction – not good, if it becomes negative especially after the ‘honeymoon period’, of the initial stages of the relationship, ends. As the association moves along, the importance of managing customer expectations do not become diluted since the customer’s needs and preferences could have changed and without the awareness, a company could fail miserably at matching up to them. This failure could completely alter the customer’s perception of the company and its products leading to disillusionment and ultimately a break in the relationship. Customer churn is possibly one of the worst nightmares for any company and managing customer expectations could save a company from it.

A customer’s perception is everything and it is the responsibility of a company to do its best in managing customer expectations in order to achieve success – for the customer and itself.

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