Consumer Perception Can Make Or Break Your Business by@scott-d.-clary

Consumer Perception Can Make Or Break Your Business

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Customers are the people who keep us afloat, and they're the ones who can make or break our businesses. We need to focus on creating a positive image and cultivating good relationships with them. The majority of companies understand the link between customer experience and loyalty, but 40 percent leave it out of their C suite strategic planning. When companies get CX right, the rewards are ideal – customers pay more and they keep coming back. If you're not paying attention to customer perception, you're in for a world of hurt.
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Scott D. Clary

Host of The Success Story Podcast | Founder/CEO OnMi Patch

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Running a business is an all-consuming undertaking. Every day, we make decisions – whether minimal or momentous – that impact the future of our venture and our lives. It's only natural that we begin to focus on the numbers: how many sales we make, how much profit we earn, what our margins look like.

But sometimes we forget that there's another critical factor to success: consumer perception. Our customers are the people who keep us afloat, and they're the ones who can make or break our businesses. We need to focus on creating a positive image and cultivating good relationships with them – or else risk losing everything we've built.

Some businesses use platforms to collect and analyze data to help them understand their customers. I recently spoke with the founder of one of these companies, Nihal Advani; he's the CEO of QualSights, and he is super knowledgeable in all things customer-centricity. 

"As time goes by, more and more companies are realizing how important it is to truly understand their consumer and their customers behavior – and not just in traditional ways, like surveys."

The conversation got me thinking about my own approach to customer perception. How do I view it in my business, and how do I influence it? How should other businesses think about it? This is what I want to explore in today's newsletter.

 Let's dive in.

Nihal Advani and QualSights

Before we get further into the ins and outs of customer perception, I'll introduce Nihal Advani, my interviewee and the inspiration for today's newsletter.

Nihal is an experienced marketer and globetrotter. Before founding QualSights, he was the Founder & CEO of Georama. He also spent five years in various Microsoft marketing and data roles across Search (Bing) and Display, including as Program Manager for the Microsoft Media Network. 

Eventually, Nihal combined his passion for technology and seeing/understanding the world by launching QualSights. It's a tool that allows companies to collect data in unconventional and innovative ways, analyze it from all angles, and make decisions based on what they learn. 

"Surveys have been around forever, and those are used quite heavily. A survey gives you the what – but rarely gives you the why. It gives you structured data, scalable data, but it's not really giving you that much depth and context. 

To answer the why, there is no better way than talking to your consumers. Talking to consumers, however, is expensive, time consuming, and labor intensive – and that's where our platform comes in, to help you understand the consumer behavior and understand their minds, without spending as much time and effort."

Speaking with Nihal was a great reminder that customer perception should be a top concern for businesses of all sizes. Let's take a look at why this might be the case.

Customer perception: why it matters

It seems like a no-brainer to care about the perspective of your consumer base. After all, they're the ones who keep you in business, right? But it's not always easy to take their thoughts and feelings into account when you're knee-deep in product development or trying to hit a quarterly goal.

I dug into some research to see just how important customer perception is, and I found some pretty convincing stats. For example – did you know that just under half of customers boycotted a brand last year after one poor experience?

That's a pretty sobering thought, especially when you consider that 74 percent of customers base their decision to buy on their overall experience with a company, not on advertising or reputation. When companies get CX right, the rewards are ideal – customers pay more, and they keep coming back.

But here's the kicker. The majority of companies understand the link between customer experience and loyalty, but 40 percent explicitly leave it out of their C suite strategic planning. The losses caused by this lack of focus can be staggering – into the billions when totaled up.

And finally, there is the tragic disconnect between brands and customer perception. Eighty-five percent of brands believe that they offer personalized experiences for their customers, which they do in the hopes of boosting loyalty. However, only 60 percent of customers agree that their experiences are personalized.

The takeaway? If you're not paying attention to customer perception, you're in for a world of hurt. It's time to focus on understanding what your customers want and need, and give it to them – no matter what it takes.

What is customer perception, anyway?

With these pretty alarming stats in mind, I started to get curious about what customer perception actually entails. Is it the star rating customers give you on their Google review? Or does it go deeper than that?

According to Help Scout, customer perception is "how customers feel about your product and brand. It's an opinion that they've formed through every interaction they've had with your company, both direct and indirect."

I generally pay attention to the views received on my podcast videos and any comments or feedback I get on social media. But is there anything else I should be doing to understand how customers are perceiving my brand?

Apparently, there is. 

Sprout Social conducted some extensive research and released an overview of their findings called #BrandsGetReal. The report is based on a survey of almost 1,000 consumers to understand their desire for greater connection with the brands they love and with each other.

Take a look at this data on what customers expect from the brands they are loyal to:

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So it's not just fast, convenient service that customers are looking for. They also want brands to be authentic and real, using their channels to share what's going on behind the scenes and connect with customers on a more personal level.

These are the expectations we need to be paying attention to. It's not enough to send out a run-of-the-mill survey anymore, or be satisfied with our star rating on Google. We need to dig a little deeper and understand how customers are really perceiving our brand, then make changes accordingly.

How to Prioritize Customer Perception

Putting customers first is how you create loyal, paying regulars. Even if your customers appear to be happy, it’s important to periodically assess what they think of you and your product – because you might be hitting your goals, but not your greater potential.

As someone who lives and breathes customer perception, I was curious to ask how Nihal incorporates it into his own business. He gave some excellent tips.

1. Constantly listen to your customers

"We're always listening to customers, but we're also monitoring how customers use things to come up with what's next. We're trying to figure out how can we do something better," Nihal explained.

Tools like QualSights and Survey Monkey make it easy to gather customer feedback, and then you also need to be listening in your day-to-day conversations with customers and employees. Are you connected with your customer base on social media? What are they saying about you there?

Social listening is a great strategy to employ in order to get an understanding of customer sentiment. Tools like Sprout Social and Hootsuite can help you monitor brand mentions, keywords, and hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

With that data, you can ask questions like:

What are people saying about our product or service?

Are they satisfied with their experience?

What could we do better?

What’s the sentiment around our brand?

How does our competition compare?

2. Keep ahead of new opportunities

Nihal also spoke about the importance of listening to industry trends and making changes to stay ahead of the curve. QualSights, for example, incorporates the latest in AI technology to make sure they are consistently one of the best in their industry.

"If you think of AI 10 years ago, what we're doing today probably couldn't happen. [But it has] progressed so much over the years. And so we are kind of keeping abreast of the latest technologies, keeping abreast of what we can do."

What I'd suggest here is making research and news consumption a regular part of your job. Are there any publications you can sign up to that will send you weekly or monthly updates on your industry? Or set up Google Alerts for specific keywords related to your field, and get notifications whenever they appear in articles, blog posts, or even tweets.

3. Prioritize the customer every day

"We move the needle every single day, or every single week. That's another key part of this – to kind of understand, 'Hey, now that technology is getting better, we can make it much faster for our customers to analyze that data'."

Nihal explained that his approach is to always be making improvements with the customer in mind. Each week, look for opportunities to make your customer's experience better.

It's not always about making huge changes. Sometimes it's the small things that make a big difference, like fixing a typo on your website, or responding to customer complaints quickly and effectively.

And of course, every change should be made after consideration of the customer perception. With each change you make, ask yourself:

Does this address a customer concern?

Is this move in line with our brand values?

Will this align with the feedback we’ve received?

4. Innovate and experiment

Artificial intelligence is huge across many industries at the moment, and the big corporations are all over the latest tech. Nihal explained that, in order to leverage new tech without paying the money that the bigger guys can, you have to be prepared to experiment.

"We didn't go after the core of AI. Instead, we took all of their core AI capabilities, combined them, and added our own flavor to kind of fill in the gaps. And that's what allowed us to have the best in class AI capability without having to spend billions of dollars that we obviously didn't have."

Innovation isn't customer-centric in and of itself, but it's an important part of the process. You have to experiment in order to find new ways to serve your customers and improve their experience.

5. Train employees on customer perception

This is a tip I wanted to add in because I think lack of awareness is one of the biggest setbacks when it comes to customer perception.

If you've been ignoring customer perception, and this article has prompted you to take action, remember that your employees are a huge part of the process. They need to be aware of customer sentiment and what customers are saying about your product or service.

They also need to be able to relay that information to you, so you can make changes as needed.

So get your whole team on board. Have regular meetings to discuss customer feedback, and make sure everyone is aware of the latest industry trends. Make sure everyone is aware of the following:

Your customers' pain points, opinions, and thoughts on your product or service

What you're doing currently to address customer feedback and sentiment

What you plan to do in the future to continue addressing it

The data on why customer perception is so important to your business

Equip everyone on your team with the tools they need to be advocates for customer perception. And remember – it's an ongoing process that should never stop evolving.

Final thoughts on customer perception

Customers are our lifeblood, and their loyalty is essential for our success. That's why we need to be constantly focusing on customer perception and integrating it into every one of our strategies.

We need to make sure that our customers perceive us as the best possible option for them. We need to be top-of-mind when they're considering their purchase options. And most of all, we need to ensure that they have a positive perception of our brand and our products.

If you're interested in hearing more from Nihal Advani, I highly recommend our interview which you can find . He's extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the topic of customer perception and how it can make or break a business.

In the spirit of things, I want to ask – is there anything you'd like done differently here with the newsletter? What's a pain point you'd like ironed out? What do you enjoy most about the content I put out each week? I'd love to hear from you. 

Thanks for reading!

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