Managing Customer Perception

Dragging a paying passenger off of a plane, bloodied and nearly unconscious is one method of managing customer perception. Of course, given the airline’s tagline claims their skies are friendly, this is probably not exactly how they want to be perceived. And that’s the thing about customer perception; you can do everything right for 100 years and one day. Then, on that second day, an unfortunate set of circumstances can reduce you from being a darling of your industry to social media’s latest whipping post.

In a case like the one above, the best thing to do to deal with angry customers is get out in front of the situation as quickly as possible. Issue a message that demonstrates concern, particularly if someone is injured (while avoiding admissions of guilt, if it’s a situation with the potential to go legal). Assure the world this is far from the norm for your company. Vow to investigate and take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again (if it was due to a malfeasance on the part of your organization). Make restitution if appropriate and move forward.

This is just as valid whether you’re an international airline or an internet startup. Negative customer perceptions can do significant damage to your revenue stream, so you have to take control of them as soon as possible to minimize the potential damage to your brand.

To stay on top of how your company is viewed by your customers, provide a reliable method by which they can provide feedback. Check it regularly and respond to your customer’s concerns right away. Similarly, you should set alerts for whenever your name starts trending on social media and in search engines. With sufficient early warning, you might be able to quietly resolve issues before they become worldwide sensations.

Of course, this assumes you already had a good image. If you’re just starting out and need to develop an image, you’ll have to communicate to the world what you stand for. To do this, you must ensure every interaction with every customer reinforces the impression of your company you want your customers to have.

Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer, has cultivated an image of being extremely customer service oriented by going above and beyond its customer’s expectations. It starts with their very liberal return policy and extends to seeking out products and telling their customers where to find them if they don’t offer them. In so doing, Zappos has garnered thousands of gigabytes of positive press and is perceived as one of the best companies in the world for customer service.

To find out what motivates your customers, survey them to see what they consider most important in terms of their relationship with an organization such as yours. Once you know where their heads are, develop and implement a strategy to move them to see in you the values they appreciate the most.

All of your messaging should support the perception you want consumers to have. The slogan on your site, your social media posts, blogs, advertisements and marketing materials, the media within which your ads appear, the causes you support—everything should work hand-in-hand to cultivate the image.

While it may seem customer perception is matter of chance, the truth is you can control the way your company is viewed by the public. In much the same manner as you’d handle you personal relationships, keeping the golden rule in mind takes you a long way toward the goal. Above all else, make every effort to do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

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