As defined in the Cambridge Dictionary, the meaning of “perception” is a thought, belief, or opinion, often held by many people and is based on appearances.

It’s the quality of being aware of things through the physical senses, especially sight. 

Now let’s look at this definition concerning customers.

Customers view, consider, experience, and feel the product/service. This becomes a customer’s perception. One product or service can have multiple customers with their perspective.

Consider each star in the galaxy as your customer. Just like each star has its own characteristic set of energy, a customer can have its own perception. To know a star, you need to understand its energy too. Similarly, understanding customer perception is critical to understanding your customer.

Your customer success (that each star shines bright in the galaxy), is based on understanding the perception (energy of the star) of the customer. Of course, galaxies and stars are much more complicated than customer success and perception. This analogy is to relate to the vastness and complications in this ecosystem of customer perspective and customer success.

As mentioned by Michael Solomon in his book Consumer Behavior, perception is the three-stage process that translates raw stimuli into meaning. The sensation is the immediate response of our sensory receptors (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and fingers) to basic stimuli (light, colour, sound, odour, and texture). Perception is the process by which sensations are selected, organized, and interpreted.

Philip Kotler, author of Marketing Management, said that perception is a process through which information is received, selected, organized and interpreted by an individual

This involves…

Exposure

Exposure occurs when a stimulus comes within the range of someone’s sensory receptors – sight, smell or touch. The more you see it, the better it gets.

The mere-exposure effect describes how people tend to develop a preference for things simply because they are familiar with them.

In marketing, the repeated exposure of the product and service through different communication channels and devices affects how customers start seeing your business. The information received is critical here. The consistency of the message influences how information is received and selected. 

Studies show there is a new metric that needs to be addressed to the digital age – an exposure metric to evaluate brand advertising campaigns.

Exposure time, as an important KPI, can help marketers show data-driven results on driving ROI.

Attention

Attention refers to the extent to which processing activity is devoted to a particular stimulus. This is also called selective perception. That’s when a consumer starts paying attention to the messages that are relevant to their needs and beliefs.

How do you create that attention to influence customer perception? What are the channels available? Are those channels relevant to your customer? 

As Russel Crowe’s character in the movie A Beautiful Mind said: “Find a truly original idea. It is the only way I will ever distinguish myself. It is the only way I will ever matter.”

That is the way to create the attention – and it is an effort not just by marketing, or by sales, or by product or support. It’s multiple efforts by everyone in the company to create a robust reach out.

Interpretation

Interpretation refers to the meaning that we assign to sensory stimuli. Just as people differ in terms of the stimuli that they perceive, the meaning we assign to these stimuli vary as well.

The same message can resonate differently with different people. Internal and external environments can influence the interpretation of the message. Therefore, customization and personalization are more than important in today’s environment. It is crucial to the success of the organization. 

I came across something very interesting when reading Engaging Customers Using Big Data by Arvind Sethi. He mentioned that while we talked about the customer and ‘the customer is king’ even before the internet and social media became popular, the communication traveled from marketers to customers. It was like a cable modem, through which downloads could be executed at broadband speeds, while uploads were tiny narrow bands of sample data.

However, communication has now all changed. The broadband is in reverse now. Communication from customers is no longer restricted, and there has been a shift in power to the customer that gives them the ability to influence our products, our messaging, and our relationship with the customer.

Digital presence and the Internet of Things (IoT) has enabled this reach and Voice of the Customer to fearlessly create a perception about the brand and amplify it. Every department in the company needs to collaborate with customers and customers are ready to work with us, if we build trust and create a positive perception.

Chief Executive of grocery data analyst Atheon Analytics, Guy Cuthbert, argues that to properly tackle food waste, supermarket chains must harness big data to properly understand its real cost and drivers.

By identifying the impact waste has on sales margin and customer perception, and looking at the steps, they can move to reduce total waste on an item-by-item basis.

Guy . said: “Taking action on waste is not just the right thing to do; it drives significant business results. According to Wrap, every £1 invested in waste management drives a £14 return. Moreover, waste know-how transforms more than just your retail and brand sales; it changes shopper perception and improves its image of the retailer. Store staff spend less time handling and reducing products to clear and more time serving customers, the right products make their way to the right store, and shopper perception of food quality improves.”

Let’s look at another example. Over the years, customer perception has been changing with time and new technologies in the market. This factor has also been influencing the global car seat and accessories market.

Customers desire to customize their car seat and accessories according to their preference. Moreover, families with newborns or toddlers take special care to equip their vehicles with baby care car seats, which eventually provides an immense opportunity for players in the global car seat and accessories market to gain traction in the baby care or infant care segment.

Customers choose your product for a reason. That reason becomes your competitive advantage. You can shape and strengthen their perception if you choose to invest in educating your customers about your products or services, as and when they interact with you.

This shift in customer perception and the importance of measuring it is the result of the dynamic environment we are marketing in. The change in consumer habits and shopping behaviour, combined with the customer journey, has created models and frameworks to interpret and measure customer perceptions accurately. 

Companies need to go one step further, by not only measuring and understanding the perception, but also address it. 

The repercussions of not addressing and understanding the customer perception can create a black hole in the customer success, resulting in churn, which in turn further creates a bad reputation, making the company fall into that black hole.