A simple guide to customer perception (+ 4 actionable ways to improve it)
Want to know what buyers think of your brand? Here’s how to gauge—and positively influence—customer perception.
Published August 23, 2021
Last updated August 24, 2021
What do your customers think of your brand? How do they feel about the products and services you offer?
If you’re unsure about the answers to these questions, you’re not alone. Customer perception is often difficult to understand because it’s subjective and varies from buyer to buyer. But this ambiguity doesn’t mean you should ignore your customers’ opinions. These feelings deserve your attention—after all, they determine whether or not consumers continue to do business with you.
If you leave the wrong impression, you risk losing a significant chunk of your customers. The Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report found that over 50 percent of consumers would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience with a brand.
To create and maintain positive customer perception, you have to offer an exceptional experience and form a connection with buyers at every stage of the customer journey.
What is customer perception?
Customer perception refers to the opinions, feelings, and beliefs customers have about your brand based on direct and indirect interactions with your business.
“Regardless of their actual experience, customer perception is all about how the customer feels about your brand and their interactions with you,” explains Sam Chandler, senior manager of customer success at Zendesk.
Factors such as social media, online reviews, pricing, quality, influencers, and CX all shape consumer perception. You can control certain elements, including the quality of your product or service, the prices, and the customer experience. But you can’t control others like reviews and social media posts.
Why is customer perception important?
Say a customer becomes so frustrated with your brand that they decide to end their subscription with your business. You might think it’s a small loss—just a single subscription—but that churn represents much more value. That buyer might have gone for an upsell or cross-sell, or they may have remained a loyal customer and told their friends to buy your product.
Once you realize how much impact a single customer can have on your bottom line, their perception of your company will seem like anything but a small matter.
Customer perceptions affect your brand’s reputation
Many consumers love to share their positive experiences with people in their network. For example, they might tell their family about a restaurant that serves delicious pizza. Or, they’ll encourage their coworkers to use a productivity app that slashed their work time in half.
But customers don’t always say good things. Their word-of-mouth depends on their perception of your brand.
“We all know that consumers are more likely to share poor experiences than good ones (and with triple the number of people!),” says Chandler. “It’s also important to remember that once people get an idea in their heads, it’s hard to change their minds. In fact, we’re hardwired to find info that supports our preconceived notions—it’s called confirmation bias.”
Enough negative word-of-mouth marketing over time will solidify a bad brand reputation, and that’s no small matter. Chander believes brands should protect their reputation by “being in front of your customer perception and the narrative surrounding your CX.”
Customer perceptions influence purchasing decisions
You might think if you offer a superior product or an unbeatable price, customers will naturally flock to your brand. That might be the case, but these factors don’t guarantee that outcome. Other important factors may impact their perception of your brand and their decision to make a purchase.
Say you offer the lowest price among your competitors and your product is high-quality. But at the same time, your company’s support team is slow to respond and doesn’t offer a generous return policy. As a result, a customer may pay more for a competitor’s product to receive better service.
“Consumers are more likely to share poor experiences than good ones (and with triple the number of people).” Sam Chandler, senior manager of customer success at Zendesk
How do you measure customer perception?
As much as you’d like to think all your customers love your brand, you can’t rely on this assumption. Instead, gauge customer perception by tracking customer feedback using the following methods.
Customer satisfaction (CSAT) surveys
Customer satisfaction surveys let customers quantitatively rate the service they receive. Looking at the ratings and accompanying comments can show you what your customers are thinking and feeling.
“When it comes to metrics, there are no silver bullets,” Chandler says. “It depends on what experience you want your customers to have with your brand. The simplest way to begin? Customer satisfaction surveys—specifically, the comments.”
Instead of just asking customers how they would rate your product or service, consider going a bit deeper with additional open-ended questions that clarify the reasoning behind their responses:
- “Why did you choose this score?”
- “What could we do to improve your experience?”
- “Where did this interaction succeed or fail at meeting your expectations?”
From there, Chandler suggests “CSAT whispering”—monitoring responses to pinpoint what you’ve been doing wrong or right across various touchpoints. “Take a look at your comments from the last week to 30 days,” she advises. “You’ll catch on pretty quickly what you’re doing well and what you need to correct. ”
Watch this video about using simple CSAT surveys to get customer feedback:
Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Net Promoter Score is a tool for measuring how likely your customers are to recommend your business to others. NPS is less transactional than CSAT and focuses on the way your customers feel about your brand rather than how they feel about their recent customer service experience.
But similar to a CSAT survey, your NPS survey will be especially insightful if it includes additional open-ended questions such as:
- “What was disappointing about your experience with our product/service?”
- “What features of our product/service do you like best?”
- “How can we improve your experience?”
Based on their responses, you can determine what steps you need to take to change negative perceptions and convince customers to advocate for your brand.
To ensure you’re accurately gauging customer sentiment, NPS surveys should be conducted no more than every six months.
Customer Effort Score (CES)
Customer Effort Score measures how easy (or difficult) it is for customers to solve their issues or to complete a task using your product or service. Ideally, you want buyers to get the resolution they need with little effort.
Including questions like “What was the most time-consuming part of your experience?” and “Was it easy and convenient to contact the support team?” in your CES survey helps you gauge how much effort your customers are putting into interacting with your brand. The responses can help indicate what you need to do to improve, too.
Remember, these metrics are only a piece of the puzzle. Once you have your data, Chandler points out, “You also need to come up with a strategy to identify, improve, and monitor results.”
4 ways to improve customer perception
After collecting your metrics, you’ll know how customers feel about your brand. You’ll need a game plan to help you improve if your customers don’t view you in a very positive light. And if you find your company has a great reputation, don’t rest on your laurels—you’ll need to take steps to continue maintaining that standard.
Provide stellar customer support
To maintain positive customer perception, your brand can’t settle with a mediocre or poor customer service operation. Strengthen your customer support with a combination of tactics.
First, provide self-service options (such as a knowledge base or FAQ pages) so customers can get quick solutions to simple problems without having to contact your support team.
Next, invest in an omnichannel support solution like Zendesk to serve your customers in a variety of ways. See which channels your customer base prefers to use, then ensure you have the tools you need to seamlessly move conversations from channel to channel—this is what it truly means to provide omnichannel customer service.
Finally, speed up response times by using email autoresponders and message templates. This will improve efficiency with workflows that reduce redundant, repetitive tasks for your agents. With less stress and more time to spend with customers, your team will be able to consistently deliver empathetic, friendly, and helpful support experiences.
Share customer success stories
An effective way to influence customers’ opinions about your brand is to show them how you’ve helped other people succeed. When customers see how others have achieved their goals with your product or service, they’re more likely to perceive your brand positively.
“When talking about customer perception and its importance to business, it’s not just about brand reputation—we also can’t forget about perceived value,” Chandler says. “Perceived value directly relates to your bottom line. If customers don’t feel like they’re getting value from what you’re selling, they won’t buy it.”
You can help customers understand your brand’s value by showing them “the value of what you’re bringing on a regular basis,” according to Chandler. At Zendesk, for example, we routinely reach out to our customers and ask them to tell us how our product has helped them. Then, we share those testimonials on sales calls with potential customers and in newsletters to existing customers.
Encourage company-wide collaboration
The customer support team isn’t solely responsible for keeping customers happy—every department needs to work together toward this objective.
“Since CX teams sit at the forefront of customer interactions, these teams are frequently the first to be aware of product or policy issues that are causing experience issues,” says Chandler. “But to solve those problems, they often need assistance from other teams. This is where collaboration across your entire company is key.”
A simple way to streamline your internal operations and improve team collaboration is to use a customer relationship management (CRM) system. CRMs gather information about all the ways a customer interacts with a company and centralize that data in one main database. They also integrate with other customer-facing tools and make it easy to share customer details with each team that directly connects with consumers, including sales, marketing, and support.
Support social causes
Today’s consumers want brands to take a stance. According to our CX Trends Report, 63 percent of customers want to buy from socially responsible companies, and 54 percent want to buy from companies that prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their communities and workplace.
Now, more than ever before, businesses must connect with their customers on the issues they care about. A great example of this is Ben & Jerry’s, which released a bold statement on dismantling white supremacy. Being vocal about racism and taking action won the ice-cream company new customers and convinced the existing ones to keep buying.
To authentically embody corporate social responsibility, find a cause for your organization to support by polling employees and customers about what matters most to them. Then, look for local charities that align with those issues, and set up work days when team members can volunteer there.
Take a walk in your customers’ shoes
Brands often make the mistake of seeing things only from their point of view, not the customer’s. Chandler argues that this approach is a dangerous one.
“Sometimes, companies get so wrapped up in their own perception of success that they forget about the customer’s perception of it,” says Chandler. “When defining success, companies cannot use their own terms. It’s got to come from the people you support.”
Speaking and listening to your customers lets you take a walk in their shoes and shows you exactly how they see things, giving you the insights you need to improve your business—and your bottom line.