Studies show that customer retention strategies are the most popular way for small businesses to drive revenue growth, followed by investing in new customer acquisition activities and methods, according to this Small Business Report.
But what if a business is facing an even greater growth challenge: correcting a marketplace misconception about their products or services, or worse, differentiating itself in an industry that’s taken some serious reputation hits?
It’s hard to retain existing customers or acquire new ones if your company’s reputation has taken an unfair hit or misinformation is circulating about your products or services.
Mistakes happen. But as Chipotle’s continued brand strength in the face of some pretty epic food safety issues demonstrates, you can (generally) always find a way to recover.
Related Article: Reputation Management 101: How to Ensure People Love Your Business
Managing misinformation can be tricky, however.
If your company has made an honest mistake in a product or service, owning up to the error and taking immediate steps to correct the problem is essential.
Here’s where things get a bit trickier: the public perceives there’s an issue with your brand or product when in reality that issue doesn’t even exist.
Yikes! A business’s reputation often dictates its sales. In an economy where an estimated 70 to 80 percent of a business’s market value comes from hard-to-assess intangible assets like brand equity and good will, a blow to a company’s reputation can have a devastating effect.
First, the bad news: even if you’re not committing an egregious error like dumping toxic waste in the oceans, if the public thinks that you are, that’s all the matters.
Now, the good news: you can bounce back. To recover, you’ll need to identify the cause of your reputation problems and get to work correcting it.
Take heart: Harvard Business Review says that most companies do an inadequate job of managing their reputations in general.
You’re not alone if you’re struggling with a public perception problem.
Follow this four-point plan to get the recovery started:
Identify the Problem
Don’t wait for a dip in sales to alert you to a reputation issue.
All businesses should keep close tabs on their online reputation via review sites like Yelp as well as social media monitoring.
I’m a fan of Brand24 for monitoring social media chatter since it allows you to set alerts for online mentions and specific keywords related.
Determine the Gap Between Reality and Perception
If your business is unfairly taking a reputation hit, there’s got to be a reason why. You just may not know it, yet.
In some cases, an unfair reputation hit could be spurred by a social media story that went viral or a media report that simply got the facts wrong.
When this happens, it’s important to get out in front of the story as quickly as possible.
If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly in a local news report, for example, contact the station and offer an exclusive on your side of the story.
Educate the Public
While most of us are pretty smart, as a whole, we can act sometimes like a pack of lemmings running off the side of the cliff.
We’re bombarded with so much information each day it can be hard to keep all the facts straight. In this case, it’s up to your business to get the correct side of your story out there.
For example, the public perception around Q Link Wireless’s participation in the Federal Lifeline Assistance Program was lukewarm at best.
That’s because most people had never heard of the program, which offers free or discounted phone service to low-income Americans, including the elderly.
Phones and service discounts are provided directly through participating phone companies, like Q Link Wireless.
Disliking a company that participates in the program is a bit like criticizing a clothing store for donating surplus coats to the needy or a soup kitchen for distributing food.
But since the public didn’t understand how the program worked, chaos ensued.
“The Lifeline Assistance Program is incredibly valuable to individuals in need,” says Q Link Wireless CEO, Issa Asad.
“We realized that we simply needed to educate the public about the program’s benefits. We worked with a local CBS television news station to help get the word out about Lifeline. The public perception shift has been tremendous.”
Focus on the Customer
Remember, the customer is always king. Once you’ve taken steps to get out in front of a perception problem (and get folks back in your store), be sure that your customer service carries through.
Overcoming a public perception issue requires you to give full attention to your customer.
Invite customers to participate in a customer service survey after every transaction so you can monitor any issues and respond immediately.
Related Article: From Zero to Five Stars: Online Reputation Management 101
Your business’s reputation is its lifeline. When it takes an unfair hit, it can feel as if your livelihood is on the line.
By taking immediate steps to identify the problem source and educate the public, you can stop further reputation damage and begin building back customer trust.
Remember this mantra: listen, educate, act and monitor.