Perception is reality, and customer perception, in particular, is reality for your customers. That means every part of your communication strategy has the power to either reinforce or sway that reality. You don’t have the power to determine what your customers think of you, but there are steps you can take to help make their image of you as close to reality as possible.
Why Does it Matter?
Consumers, or people in general, have inherent biases. In other words, people have fixed beliefs based on their culture, thoughts, past experiences, upbringing, the media, and a bevy of other variables. These biases can prevent your audience from paying attention to your ads-or worse-distrusting them.
Let’s look at one bias in particular: the confirmation bias.
People tend to favor ideas that confirm their existing beliefs. At the same time, people tend to interpret information as further evidence of or verification for those beliefs. Therein lies the confirmation bias. So how does this tie into marketing your small business?
For starters, look to communicate messages that empathize with your audience. If your product or service alleviates a notable pain point (especially one felt from doing business with your competitors), reinforce the message that you understand the pain point, but offer a solution. If you can deliver superior results, your customer’s new beliefs will be reinforced. You can then expand on further messages to strengthen that belief-and your customer relationship.
Customer Reviews Matter
What your customers think of you matters to you, but matters more to other customers. On average, people are four times more likely to purchase a product with five or more reviews. That means before your customers make their own opinion of your business, they take into consideration the opinions of their peers.
The best way to elicit positive reviews is to go above and beyond! The more needs you’re able to fill for your customers, the more positively they’ll think of you. Think of things that matter to them: time, connectivity, technology, quality, etc. Tick off as many boxes as you can and you’ll appeal to them in more ways than one. If you are striving for quality on all levels, your negative reviews will be few and far between.
To that end, when and if you receive negative reviews, you can’t alter or delete them. What you can do is address them in a straightforward, respectful, and honest manner. Everyone makes mistakes, and if you’re able to display transparency and ethics in how you handle your mistakes, it’s going to do you favors in the long run.
It’s All About the Experience
Running a business is no longer as simple as providing a product or service. You have to provide an experience, and specifically an experience superior to that of your competitors. What that means is you can have the greatest product in the world, but if something like your accessibility or customer service is lacking, you no longer have an experience. You merely have a product, and people can (conceivably) get that elsewhere.
Try to give your customers the most economical experience possible. Prices aside, look for ways to cut down on or eliminate facets of the business or industry that might be pain points. Are customers used to long waits? Find a way to deliver more quickly. Think of what your customers might complain about when doing business with a competitor and deliver a different experience.
Make your customers feel valued. A great customer experience will lead to happier customers and greener bottom lines. A Garnter study from 2019 found customer experience is the biggest driver of customer loyalty, more important than price and brand combined. Collect and analyze customer feedback to understand their motivations, needs, expectations, and most importantly-how they perceive their experience with your business.
Utilize Word of Mouth Advertising
Your marketing messages may be able to paint a picture of your brand, but more important is the power of word-of-mouth advertising. People trust endorsements from those close to them far more (92% according to Neilsen) than advertisements. If you can provide a great experience for customer A, perhaps they’ll tell their neighbor (customer B) about the experience.
That next person will be looking for the same experience as their neighbor, so be sure to strive for consistency. Treat every customer like the most important customer and they’re more likely to speak glowingly of you. In a 2019 Forbes study, 30% of consumers said they would share the story of a negative experience with others while 49% said they would share the story of a positive experience with others.
The best part of word-of-mouth advertising? It’s free! Leverage the power of providing stellar experiences to build brand loyalty, awareness, and recognition and help your customers perceive you how you want to be perceived.
The Bottom Line: Customer Perception is Reality
The most successful businesses are typically highly regarded by their customers. This is because they fulfill a number of needs, treat their customers well, are well-known, or perceived well by the community as a whole. In other words, their customer perception is typically uniform: people approve of their business.
Customer perception matters. Look for ways to connect on multiple levels with your customers and strive to provide the best experience possible. Your customers’ expectations are always going to get higher, so your work is never done!