May 3, 2010

Kicking Tires: How Customers Perceive Quality

Is a Mac better than a PC?  Depends who you talk to.  I think the general feeling is Macs are better designed, more elegant and of higher quality than PC’s.  Now this is all perception, but perceived quality is at the heart of what people are buying.

People are poor judges of quality

For years men have been kicking tires and slamming doors to judge the sturdiness of a car.  This isn’t an effective assessment of a car’s quality, but it’s a time honored practice.  Car companies know this.  So they have made purposeful investments into the sound a car door makes.  If customers are going to test cars by slamming doors, then they better sound just right.

Perceived quality is a person’s opinion on the quality of a product or service, and its ability to deliver on its intended purposes.  Perception is powerful.  If someone believes a product is of higher quality, it will impact their entire view of the brand.  Perceived quality coats the brand like maple syrup on a stack of pancakes.  Its syrupy sweetness infuses everything.  That’s the advantage Apple has with its Macs.  It has invested heavily in their design, advertising and customer experiences to elevate their products’ perceived quality.  And they’ve done a bang up job of it.

Perceptions Start Online

A company’s online presence is an essential component of its perceived quality.  In almost every sector, customers are going online to support their buying decisions.  What your customers find online directly impact their feelings, impressions and opinions of your company and its products and services.

As you evaluate your online marketing consider how your customers judge quality.  Not all investments are equal.  For example, a company may run its website on the most elegant content management system available, but I doubt that will have much impact on the perceived quality of their brand.  Customers aren’t looking at the back end.  They’re evaluating the site’s design, images and content.  They are making their assessment of quality based on the experience the website creates.

You can take cues from your industry on where customers judge quality.  For example in the travel industry, the customer review is king.  People are judging hotels and destinations based on customer reviews.  The hotels may have great images on their sites, but that is just a basic expectation of a hotel website.  Rather the reviews provide the added insight customers are looking for, and act as social proof to evaluate quality.

Another source of perceived quality is a firm’s Google search rank.  Essentially this is a form of social proof.  People are using Google as a filter.  If a firm comes up in the first two to three spots in a search, then customers will view these as higher quality firms and take time to evaluate them.

Take the time to consider how your customers kick the tires.  How do they evaluate your products and services?  How do they assess the quality of your firm compared with other choices they may have?  When you understand how your customers assess quality you can make investments to improve the perceived quality of your brand.

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