Customer Service Can Influence Customer Perception

“Perception is assumed to be reality until clients encounter the reality of the brand, don’t fake it” – Bernard Kelvin Clive

Anyone in business would know and stand by the statement “The customer’s perception is reality”. How customers perceive a business, a brand, and offerings of a company would determine whether they buy or not from the company. Companies spend huge sums on marketing and promotional activities, invest in ramping up their customer service levels, and take whatever steps are required to influence customer perception to their advantage. Of course, meticulous planning and execution are extremely important in order to influence customer perception and foster long-term associations and profitability for a company.

We have mentioned several times that the biggest challenge for any company is the subjective nature of customer service. Different customers would perceive similar or even same products in very different ways – it all depends on their outlook, nature of business, preferences, expectations, needs, and several such factors. These factors would easily change and influence customer perception in favour of or against a company, depending on what the customers believe they would be receiving. Customers have access to a lot of information, which in turn has made them more aware of their choices, and companies that would be able to give them exactly what they want. With such a huge market, and so many companies vying for customer attention, it is becoming increasingly harder to gain and retain the attention of customers for long. It makes sense therefore, for companies to create a lasting and pleasant impression, in order to influence customer perception in their favour, making it easier to trounce competitors. The scary part is that customers rarely provide more than a single opportunity to any company to make a lasting impression, and hence companies must use whatever opportunities they receive to convince customers of the company’s dedication towards them.

Being able to influence customer perception is critical to further business and market reputation. It is essential for any company to differentiate itself to ensure that customers choose to do business with it, irrespective of any other players in the same realm. With digitization, and increased ability to produce and source goods, easier access to distribution systems, and easily available information, the market has become fiercely competitive. Companies often make the mistake of engaging in self-defeating price wars, which only brings down their profit margins while doing nothing to influence customer perception positively. It would be prudent to offer consistent top class customer service, high quality offerings, and memorable customer experiences each time.

There is no easy answer as to the best method to influence customer perception. Some customers would be extremely price sensitive, preferring companies offering huge discounts, offers, incentives, and other freebies, while others would be willing to pay more but would demand bespoke and tailor-made products. Companies struggle to keep up with these changing moods and expectations, while in the bargain customers enjoy power, attention and multiple choices. This ‘power’ has made customers more aware of what they can demand, making it a lot harder for companies to influence customer perception in their favour. Companies continue to remain befuddled on how they could differentiate their offerings, since obviously ‘traditional differentiators’ such as pricing do not seem to be working as effectively.

In the face of so many challenges and obstacles standing in a company’s way, being able to favourably influence customer perception seems near impossible. The only way for companies now is to create and sustain strong relationships with their customers, leading them to engagement, loyalty, and brand advocacy. How fast and effectively a company can forge a bond with customers no longer depends on things like low prices and quality. In fact, customers want to interact with companies that make things easier for them, provide speedy and efficient responses, and treat each customer as value added and important. A combination of all of these factors serves to positively influence customer perception and a breakdown in either can damage that perception irreparably.

In the dynamic business world of today, it has become imperative for companies to find different ways to compete with other players to gain favour with customers. We discussed in the previous exposition that customer satisfaction does not suffice now, and hence companies have to make concerted and consistent efforts to gain customer loyalty. We know that it takes a long time to gain customer loyalty, and this happens only when a company is able to influence customer perception consistently in its favour. We also know that it is harder to gain new customers, and a lot cheaper and easier to retain existing loyal customers. Hence, it makes sense for a company to gain as many loyal customers as possible, who in turn would provide repeat business, and attract more customers for the company.

It is no secret that while a company may succeed and be able to influence customer perception positively, there are no guarantees on how long such positive perceptions would remain. A company must aim to first, meet the expectations of their customers, such that no customer remains dissatisfied. Relatively satisfied and happy customers are not necessarily loyal ones, and neither would they have an emotional connection with the company. Loyalty goes beyond rational and business decisions – when a company is able to influence customer perception in its favour, customers make decisions based on the warmth and positive emotions they experience for a company.

When customers make buying decisions, they evaluate products and services of a company based on their perception of the benefits and compare those benefits against the price. If the company has done enough to influence customer perception about the benefits of its products, customers would evaluate the benefits as higher and better and worth a lot more. The cost would cease to become a factor. Customers now, increasingly, look for emotional gratification through their purchases too. They expect the companies to feed their need to feel important, look good, stand out in their social circles, get a feeling of exclusivity, and be treated with courtesy and friendliness. Customers now establish equations and connections between the company and its products, with their feelings and emotions, and the company that seems to match this connection the best, is perceived as the best, and would draw customers closer.

It is a lot of effort to influence customer perception, and the harder part is that these perceptions are dynamic and ever changing based on the current expectations and needs of customers. Therefore, any company must understand that changing customer perception is not a one-time activity – rather, it is a process, which requires on-going attention and support from everyone in the organization. The better experiences a company can provide to customers, the more positive would their perception be about the company. Over time, as the number of these experiences increases, customer are sure to base their buying decisions on these experiences, and choose companies that would have been consistent in their approach. There is no doubt that consistently delivering more than what customers expect is a tall order for any company. However, the benefits of doing so and effectively being able to influence customer perception, are huge and numerous. Has your company stepped up to the challenge yet?

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