When it comes to attracting new customers and building your business, there's nothing more important than your business's reputation. Darrah Brustein, founder of Network Under Forty, has called your business's reputation the most powerful leverage that you have in business.
In our fast-paced social media-based world, it seems like one misstep can destroy a business almost without the business noticing that it's happening. Some entrepreneurs seem to think that if they just ignore the online sphere, they at least won't get wounded by the rapid turnaround of public opinion.
But when it comes to reputations, the best defense is decidedly a good offense. Your reputation is, after all, a combination of what your business does, and what people say about you. You need to make sure that their saying the right things and the only way to do that is to make sure you're doing the right things.
Here are six easy things you can do to keep your business's reputation strong, positive and healthy.
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Keep Your Promises
If your business makes a promise, the world needs to end before you break it. If you say you ship within 24 hours, you ship within 24 hours. If you say that you offer no-question-asked returns, don't ask any questions.
You also need to remember that not all promises are explicit. The simple buyer transaction is a promise. The customer believes that they will receive the product or services that they purchased in a timely fashion. They also believe that what they bought is worth what they paid for it. If you're not keeping this most important promise, your reputation will suffer.
Reward Customers for Positive Interactions
The phrase "the customer is always right" is a nice idea about how businesspeople ought to treat customers. It's also completely wrong, and results in companies spending their resources trying to please their most irate, least rational and least devoted customers.
What if, instead, sales people were empowered to reward customers who were a pleasure to work with? What if, at the end of a transaction, a customer heard, "It was such a delight to assist you today that I've been authorized to give you an extra five percent discount."
How would that change your conversation with the customer for the better? How do you think that person would talk about your business in public?
Do More Than Is Expected
Another phrase that gets tossed around a lot in customer service is to do more than is expected, but what does this actually mean?
Many companies try to include some unexpected service at no cost—for example, Goulet Pens always ships their orders, no matter how big or small, with a tiny Tootsie Pop—but the easiest way to approach this tip is to offer customers what they need before they ask for it.
For example, if you have a customer call up frustrated that the product they purchased doesn't work, don't wait for them to demand a return; offer to exchange it for them. If they reveal that their service was unsatisfactory, offer to make it right before they have to tell you that it's what they need. It’s no secret that great customer service is the best marketing tool for the dollar.
Related Article: Like PB&J: Customer Service as a Marketing Strategy
In all the areas and platforms where your company interacts, be consistent. This also means that you should be yourself; if you try and create an alternate persona, it will eventually crack, and people will be frustrated that you were cold, dismissive, or rude in a different environment.
When you represent your company, make sure that you're doing so in a way that is reasonable and approachable.
In the modern market, where there are so many channels competing for customer attention, waiting for customers to come to you isn't going to build your audience. You need to find your customers, wherever they hang out.
Whatever you do, there's an internet forum, page, or Facebook Group dedicated to it. By putting yourself into that environment and working to be an authentic expert and resource, you will grow your audience organically.
Apologize When You Screw Up
No one is perfect, and it follows therefore that no company is perfect either. At some point, your company will make a mistake. You'll say something insensitive, or react poorly to a review, or there will be a problem down a supply chain that causes products to be delivered late. Something will happen; something always happens.
What sets good companies apart from the bad ones is how these issues are handled when they arise. Just saying "I'm sorry," isn't enough. Apologies can't be rushed, hurried or awkwardly handled.
Need some tips on how to apologize in a way that's productive, helpful and starts the process of healing relationships? This quick guide from Mindtools will get you started on the right path.
Related Article: Falling Amongst the Stars: Tips for Improving Your Yelp Ratings
Take Control of Your Reputation
If you notice one thing as you read through these tips, make sure it's this: you are in control of your own reputation. At no point should you feel like your business only has a good reputation when it's perfect, or when it bribes all of its customers into posting good reviews on Yelp.
Instead, a business that commits to its goals, lives its mission, and keeps its promises will have a good reputation. Take control of your reputation by managing the factors that would give you a bad reputation; the rest will take care of itself.