How Customer Perception Can Make or Break Your Business

customer at a coffee shop
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Customer perception affects not only those consumers who purchase your products or services, but also anyone who sees your product or service without engaging in a transaction. That’s why it’s important for all entrepreneurs to understand how their ideal customer––as well as the general public––might perceive their company. With both audiences in mind, small business owners can then craft a brand to move potential customers to action and encourage non-customers to share their perception with others who may be searching for a company just like yours.

What Defines Customer Perception?

A number of factors affect your customers’ perception of your business, including advertising, social media, customer service, reviews and critiques, and public relations. Involved in all of these factors are four primary functions that create a response in your audience. First, your audience reacts to a sensation (how does your product or service stimulate the customer’s senses), which leads to capturing their attention (how effective is your campaign when using selective or subliminal perception marketing), which leads to initiating an interpretation (how your brand makes them feel), which leads to branding retention (how your product or service will stay in your audience’s mind long after they have moved on from your marketing campaign or proximity to your business).

Customer perception theory takes a closer look at what motivates your audience to engage with your company and take action. Examining that motivation can help small business owners determine how to approach their advertising, customer feedback, public relations, social media marketing and customer service policies.

How to Use Customer Perception to Improve Sales

The general public and your ideal customer are equally influenced by your brand, and it is your brand that drives customer perception. As a small business owner, influencing your customers’ perception of your company in a positive way often translates into more customers acting on their perception by either purchasing your product or service, or by recommending your business to someone in search of it.

Here are a few recommendations on how to engage your customers and strengthen your brand, which will, in turn, affect their perception of your business.

1. Social Media Marketing

Social media is a valuable and relatively inexpensive marketing tool that can deliver significant ROI when managed well. But it’s important not to spread your focus too thin and try to market on every social media platform. Instead, examine which platforms serve your business the best.

Social media platform options available today are varied, with new networks popping up regularly, so you need to be discerning when it comes to choosing the right social media platforms for your business. Some platforms are better suited for fast customer service and public relations responses, while others are better for powerful short visual campaigns that illustrate your product or services succinctly. Develop a strategy to craft a perception that meets your ideal customers’ needs, and implement it where your they like to chat, share and engage.

2. Customer Service

There’s an old anecdote about how a satisfied customer will tell 2 or 3 people about their experience with a company, but a dissatisfied customer will tell 8 to 10 people. What's the lesson? Every interaction can make or break your business, so never take any customer interaction for granted. However, it’s also important to remember that quality customer service also includes setting boundaries on what customers can expect from you in a timely manner, as well as incorporating their feedback before larger problems arise.

 

3. Community Engagement

A common complaint shared among consumers today is how businesses that do not interact with a specific community for the majority of the year will suddenly seem to appear with massive advertising campaigns and higher visibility when it’s financially or socially convenient. (For example, large banks and tech companies during annual Pride parades in June.) To avoid being labeled a fair-weather friend, be visible in your community and in your customers’ social circle throughout the year. Launch new campaigns and support community events “out of season” to show your audience that you share their values, beliefs and attitudes all year-round.

4. Selective Perception Marketing

It’s virtually impossible for customers to pay attention to all the advertising they’re bombarded with every day, so most people filter out the messages for products or services that don’t interest them at that time. Companies who tailor their marketing strategy to get their product in front of the potential customers who aren’t filtering out their industry are utilizing selective perception marketing, and the results are often effective. For example, placing ads for bookkeeping or small business accounting services in local coffee shops and co-working spaces to be seen by young entrepreneurs who may need your services is more cost-effective than placing an ad in a local newspaper.

5. Your Unique Selling Proposition

One of the smartest ways to cultivate a positive customer perception is to accentuate and promote what makes your business different from the competition. Your audience is constantly inundated with advertising, making it hard to break through the wall of sensory overload surrounding them daily. But it doesn’t always take a larger budget or viral marketing campaigns to reach your ideal customer. Sometimes all you need is to know what you can offer that your potential customer wants, but your competitor does not, i.e., your unique selling proposition.

For some businesses like independent bookstores, the answer can be as simple as personalized recommendations, a sense of community and a display of awareness of what your customer needs in times of change and adversity.

Although seemingly obvious to many entrepreneurs starting a new business, customer perception can be a difficult field to navigate. Logic tells us that a great idea coupled with a strong business plan, expert functionality and efficient customer service should be enough to lead us on the path of entrepreneurial success. Yet reality teaches us that there’s a reason why 50 percent of businesses fail in the first 5 years, and customer perception often plays in a role in that unfortunate outcome. But with careful examination of your audience’s response to your business’s marketing and customer engagement, you may be savvy enough to see your company succeed where others fail.