This blog is the second in a series of articles reviewing different types of market research and how best to use them to inform your business strategy. The first being on customer satisfaction surveys. Customer perception studies are different to customer satisfaction measurement although there is an overlap.
Measuring perceptions should extend beyond your customers to include target customers, influencers and suppliers. This will give you an understanding of what your audiences think of your company. What decision makers and those who influence decision makers see as your strengths, your weaknesses and their areas of ignorance.
By regularly conducting perception studies you can chart progress in the implementation of your business strategy and your communications plan and make modifications to strategy to keep it on target. It is also an important exercise to conduct before developing a communications plan.
By understanding your audiences’ perceptions of your business you can promote your strengths and address perceived shortcomings. The study should also obtain some feedback on competitors and identify issues of importance to your audience so that you can demonstrate your strengths in these areas in your communications.
The key word here is ‘perception’. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you’re perceived as such – particularly by your indirect customer base. Because they have less contact with you they’ll also know less about you.
Quite often companies will be surprised by feedback, finding that what they consider to be a strength their customers are ignorant about or even see as a weakness. For example, Competitive Advantage conducted a study for a contractor with feedback showing that they were considered to have a poor Health & Safety record. In reality they had received numerous awards for Health & Safety but they had not broadcast this achievement.
To ensure the findings are impartial it is important to use an independent third party to conduct this research, if you use your own staff it is unlikely that people will give honest answers.
Review your customer contacts and select the customers of importance to you. This could be a combination of turn-over, location, market expertise and specialisation. Remember to include the different touch-points in an organisation. For a contractor this might be Purchasing Manager, Estimator and Project Manager. Each will have different needs, deal with a different part of your business and have a different, but equally important, perception. Consider who these people are influenced by and include a sample of these. Also list those organisations you would like to deal with and include similar contacts in the perception study.
The perceptions of your suppliers are also important, they will talk to your customers and the market in general and you want them to be saying things which support your communications.
The survey should comprise of four core elements:
- Identifying the key factors that really matter to your customer
- Measuring perceptions of how your organisation performs against these
- Measure perceptions of your competitors as a benchmark
- Awareness of recent promotional activity
Because Competitive Advantage conducts the annual Construction Media Index we have a good understanding of which communications channels are being used by the different sectors of the construction industry and ensure a perception study is properly focused.
Test the survey on a few respondents to ensure it is working as intended. Are the questions structured correctly to get the qualitative feedback important in a perception study or issues that were not expected arising?
The range of research methods can include:
- online surveys
- telephone interviews
- face-to-face interviews
- focus groups
We have found telephone interviews to be the most cost effective and reliable method of research. If there are some complex issues or important customers consider face-to-face interviews in the research process.
Conclusion: Using the results to inform your strategy
It is important that you do well in the areas that really matter to your customers. Having identified the key issues you should ensure that all future communications include statements reinforcing your company’s strengths in these areas.
There will probably be some things you want to improve, prioritise these and start working on making the improvements.
There will be other areas where your customers’ perceptions may be incorrect. Here it’s a case of telling them more about what you do and why you are good at it, supporting claims with evidence.
Strengthening your market position is an on-going process and the benefits of conducting a customer perception study are:
- It enables fact-based decision making about your business
- Helps you understand what customers like about your company and why
- Identifies opportunities for improvement
- Prioritises changes based on customer feedback
- Strengthens your customer relationships
- Measures effectiveness of advertising and PR programmes
- Informs the development of a focused communications programme
- Benchmarks you against your competitors
Competitive Advantage has been conducting construction market research since 2000. Our research team have construction industry experience, are familiar with the industry’s language and practices and understand the challenges you and your customers face.
Our commercial experience means that as well as reporting market research findings we are able to interpret these effectively and make sound business recommendations.
We aim to provide high quality information at an economic cost.