Find Out If Perception Is Reality

How do your customers and prospects perceive you? Do you know this based on fact (meaning you’ve asked them directly or had a third party find the answer for you) or is this based on a gut instinct? When was the last time you asked your customers: "When you think about our company, what’s the first thought or impression that comes to mind?" If you have asked this and they can only state the product or service you provide, then you are missing a great opportunity to instill loyalty and trust based on your brand.

I recently conducted a survey for a bank client and asked its customers that very question. The answers I received were not: "checking accounts, loans or savings plans." The majority of responses included: "great customer service, friendly tellers, trusted advisers." People thought of this bank in terms of the value provided to them through the services, not the actual services themselves. Of no surprise, then, is the fact that it has incredibly high customer-satisfaction ratings and loyalty levels and a strong brand image. That is a key goal every business should be striving for.

As the saying goes, "Perception is reality," so to ensure your brand is strong, your message must be clear, focused, and on target at every touch point with your customers. Branding is the impression you leave through every outreach and communication, and its success involves a lot more than a nice logo or cool tagline. Everything you do has to incorporate your message, because if you dilute it in any way, you won’t be sending a clear definition of the value you offer. Even if your tagline says "We care," people won’t believe it if their interactions with your customer service people (or any employee or your Web site) tell them you simply want to make the deal or quickly get them off the phone.

How do you find out what your perception is? Try "mystery shopping" your own company. Mystery shopping is quite simple. Assign a variety of colleagues, friends, and trusted advisers to experience all of your customer touch points (phone, in-person, online, e-mail, etc.) as if they were a prospect and/or customer. Find out how they are treated. If it’s not how you want customers/prospects to be treated and is antithetical to your brand message, then you know where improvements need to be made.

Beth Goldstein President Marketing Edge Consulting Group Boston

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