Nothing is more important to attracting new customers and growing your business than your company's reputation. In fact, Darrah Brustein, founder of Network Under Forty, wrote that your brand reputation is the most powerful leverage that you have in business.
In our fast-paced 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 won't get wounded by the rapid turnaround of public opinion.
But when it comes to a business's reputation, the best defense is a good offense. Your reputation is a combination of what your business does and what people say about you. You need to make sure that they're saying the right things, and the only way to do that is to make sure you're doing the right things. [Read related article: From Zero to Five Stars: Online Reputation Management 101]
Why is a company's reputation important?
A company's reputation is important because it helps to attract and retain customers. People's experiences with a business, as well as how others perceive those interactions, play a huge role in building that business's reputation. Having a good reputation isn't just a pride point for your company; it's necessary for long-term survival.
A great product or service may pique interest, but a great reputation can help you stand out from the crowd and may even be the factor that sways customers to purchase from you rather than your competitors.
Conversely, if people have a negative perception of your business, they're unlikely to purchase from you or may not purchase from you again if they've had a previous bad experience with your company. They may even share negative feedback and reviews, pushing away other prospective customers. And if you have no reputation at all, people may never hear of your company in the first place, limiting your customer pool and potential longevity.
Having a good reputation affords your company several benefits. For one, it gives you a competitive edge, and it attracts supporters and brand advocates. A positive business reputation also creates opportunities for growth and expansion, as people and other companies are more willing to work with brands they trust and admire.
What factors affect your company's reputation?
These three factors have the biggest impacts on your company's reputation:
- Reviews of your company. Consumers like to do their research before making a purchase, and reviews are one of the quickest ways to get a snapshot of a business. People can take to a variety of review sites and social media to share their experiences with your company. Reading these reviews gives you great insight into how people perceive your business, what is working well and how you can improve.
- Your response to both positive and negative reviews. Equally as important as customers' reviews is how you respond to them. Interacting with people who leave positive reviews shows that your brand appreciates their loyal customers. When faced with negative reviews, offering great customer service shows that you care about making things right – something that can potentially change the minds of non-supporters.
- Your online presence. Your presence should be consistent across your website, review sites and social media – anywhere you communicate with your customers. Respond to customers on social accounts, keep your online presence updated and maintain a consistent brand voice. Potential customers will recognize your efforts and be more likely to engage with your business.
Examples of good company reputations
These are just a few examples of companies that have built great reputations:
- HubSpot. The software platform works to understand their clients' experiences, listening to their needs and coming up with actionable solutions to any issues that arise. HubSpot's review sites are filled with positive comments about their customer support service.
- Shopify.The e-commerce platform has built a reputation for being a one-stop shop for website maintenance, as well as providing top-notch technical support. Shopify also proudly displays real customer testimonials on their website.
- JustFab. JustFab excels at providing a unique, tailored customer experience in which users take a brief style quiz that personalizes the items that appear in the online shop. This user experience results in positive reviews.
How to maintain a strong company reputation
Here are seven easy things you can do to keep your business's reputation strong, positive and healthy.
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-questions-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 should 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, salespeople 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 5% 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 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 its 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 a customer calls because they are 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 money.
In all of the areas and platforms where your company interacts, be consistent. This also means that you should be yourself; if you try to 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 you're doing so in a way that is reasonable and approachable.
Engage your audience.
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 make mistakes.
No company is perfect. 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.
What sets good companies apart from the bad ones is how the companies handle the issues 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 helpful and starts the process of healing relationships? This quick guide from MindTools will get you started on the right path.
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.
Additional reporting by Sean Peek.