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Customer Communications: Exploring the Huge Gap Between Customer Perception Versus Company Perception

By Scott Draeger, SVP of Product Marketing & Vertical Solutions at Smart Communications

In this digital era, enterprises like yours heavily invest in advanced Customer Communication Management (CCM) solutions to elevate their communication strategies. However, you may not even realize the investment as customer communications might be disjointed and spread across hundreds of disconnected projects. 
As a result, enterprises think their communications are better than they are. In fact, 73% of companies believe their customer communications are improving while only 29% of customers agree. This glaring perception gap poses a critical challenge, impacting customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and, ultimately, your organization’s bottom line. 

Understanding this difference in perception between what businesses think they're delivering and what customers truly experience is pivotal. If you ignore this blind spot, problems will appear out of the blue to undermine even the most sophisticated communication strategies. The ramifications are clear: dissatisfied customers, missed opportunities, and a potential erosion of trust.  

In this blog, you’ll discover the potential causes for this perception gap based on insightful data from Smart Communication’s 2023 Benchmark Study. The actionable insights, both in this article and our Benchmark reports, can help you navigate the evolving landscape of customer interactions, revealing the untapped potential that lies within understanding and addressing the subtle yet impactful nuances of the communication divide. 

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Understanding the CCM Perception Gap 

According to recent data from our Benchmark report, a compelling 81% of customers believe communications are somewhat or very important to their overall experience with a company. That said, this perception gap we mentioned in the previous section is a potential Achilles' heel for businesses. 

So, why do companies tend to overestimate their CCM effectiveness when they’re aware a poor experience directly impacts churn? The answer lies in a mix of internal biases, inadequate feedback mechanisms, and reliance on outdated communication methods. Internal biases, often born from proximity to the creation process, can cloud your judgment. The lack of feedback mechanisms can create an echo chamber where assumptions go unchallenged. Meanwhile, clinging to outdated communication methods in a rapidly evolving digital age can inadvertently perpetuate the perception gap. Let’s look at the potential causes for this disconnect from an industry perspective: 

Insurance: 72% of insurance professionals say their company’s customer communications are getting better yet only 27% of customers agree. While this seems like a direct source of feedback that should be reliable, something must be getting lost in translation. It’s possible that insurance companies aren’t asking their customers the right questions. Are the surveys asking about a specific interaction with their insurer or are they more general in nature?  

Maybe they’re not acting on the input they're receiving. Sometimes an insurer will spend a lot to make improvements, but the spend could be on maintenance to IT infrastructure that the customer won’t notice. This is a case of insurers acknowledging the investment and effort they invested, but customers not seeing a measurable difference in the output. Or perhaps insurers are just not doing a good job of interpreting the survey data. Whatever the cause, your insurance organization must find a way to close the feedback loop and get customer communications on track with expectations. 

Healthcare: Let’s look at the way healthcare organizations collect the customer feedback they’re using to guide their efforts. The majority (59%) of companies rely on customer surveys to measure the effectiveness of their communications.   

While this may seem like the best way to gauge how well things are working, it’s possible that payors and providers are not asking the right questions. The good news is, moving away from basic measurements, such as net promoter score (NPS), and adopting more granular, customer-focused metrics, such as customer effort score (CES) and customer experience index (CXI), may help you gain more nuanced insights into what is and isn’t working for your members.   

Whatever the cause, this dissonance underscores the need for a reality check. By acknowledging and dismantling these barriers, businesses can recalibrate their CCM strategies, aligning them more closely with the authentic needs and expectations of their customer base. 

 5 Ways to Close the Gap

The data-backed tips below can help your organization enhance internal processes and prepare for a future-forward approach to customer communications. 

  1. Invest in Customer-Centric Communication Platforms. Opt for advanced CCM software that prioritizes customer-centricity. The benchmark report highlights a disparity—while 90% of companies believe they prioritize customer needs in communication, only 58% of customers feel this is evident. Choose platforms that facilitate personalized, relevant, and timely interactions, aligning with customer preferences and expectations. 

  1. Establish Clear Communication Goals. Define specific communication objectives aligned with customer satisfaction metrics. According to our data, 68% of dissatisfied customers attribute their discontent to perceived communication failures. Set clear goals such as reducing response times, enhancing clarity, and ensuring consistency across channels. 

  1. Implement Multichannel Integration. Recognize the diversity of customer touchpoints. Our benchmark report reveals that 64% of customers prefer a combination of online and offline communication. Integrate various channels seamlessly to create a unified customer experience. Ensure consistency in messaging and branding across platforms to minimize the perception gap. 

  1. Embrace Data Analytics for Insightful Decision-Making. Leverage analytics to gain actionable insights. While 75% of companies believe they effectively use data to inform communication strategies, only 46% of customers agree. Analyze customer interactions, preferences, and feedback to make informed decisions. This data-driven approach enhances communication relevance and effectiveness. 

  1. Conduct Regular Communication Audits. Periodically assess the effectiveness of your communication strategy. Our benchmark data reveals that 56% of companies do not conduct regular audits of their customer communication processes. Regular audits help identify gaps, measure performance against goals, and adapt strategies to evolving customer expectations. 

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Final Thoughts on the Perception Gap in Customer Communications  

Many companies are focused on improving the wrong customer communications channels — namely the website and mobile app. These may be important points of contact, but if your members are unable to follow the company’s communications or purchased a plan without understanding the benefits, they’re much more likely to pick up the phone and call for help, driving up service costs.   

Your company might also be ignoring member channel preferences altogether. For example, Benchmark data found that older populations overwhelmingly prefer paper-based communications. And yet, many healthcare organizations are trying to force digital interactions on them. Taking a more nuanced approach could potentially result in improved satisfaction metrics and better long-term loyalty for your brand.    

The rise of customer-focused metrics shows a desire to improve CX, but not necessarily the ability to do so unless the data is actionable. The focus should be on customer journeys, designing interactions based on individual needs, and building trust through easy, transparent communications. Working with a trusted CCM vendor will give companies a competitive edge to help them close the perception gap and meet member needs. 

To learn more about the perception gap, and how your business can close it, download ‘The State of Customer Conversations’ today.  

About the Author
Scott Draeger is the SVP of Product Marketing and Vertical Solutions at Smart Communications. With a passion for collaboration, he focuses on how communications can be better for the recipient and perform better for the business. He started as a document designer using a collection of hardware and software technologies, before moving to the software side of the industry. His broad experience includes helping organizations improve heavily regulated customer communications all around the world.