Welcome back! Up until this point, we’ve talked about many of the positive aspects of internet marketing and social media platforms. We’ve also gone into substantial detail on how you can use these interactive social media platforms to engage your customers and prospects. We would be remiss, however, if we did not address the very real, “dark side” to online marketing and social media.
Unlike any other time in history, consumers now have a voice that is more powerful than ever. Specifically, customers and clients have “carte blanche” when it comes to saying good or bad things, about businesses, online. Whether your business participates in online marketing and social media marketing or not, one thing is guaranteed: Your customers will definitely be talking about your business online – especially if they have a positive or negative experience with your company. If you’re one of the rare businesses who does not yet have some of your customers talking about your company online, it’s very important to come to terms with the fact that this is going to happen eventually, whether you want it to or not.
We now live in a world where anyone can say just about anything that they want to say online. People no longer need to be an authority figure to have an influential voice. Unfortunately, even if your business is doing everything right, we all know that it’s impossible to please everybody 100% of the time. To make matters worse, unethical competitors could even say negative things online, about your company, using an anonymous or fictitious name. It’s very easy for anyone to pretend to be a consumer or client who had a bad experience with your business.
When you consider the fact that we live in a world where anyone can make any online comment that they want to make about a business, while being completely anonymous themselves, it becomes clear that protecting your company’s reputation is not an option, but rather a requirement.
There are several options available to you, when it comes to managing your company’s reputation online. First, you could hire a firm to manage this for you. Yes, believe it or not, there are entire companies dedicated to the sole task of protecting the online reputations of other companies. These firms, commonly known as Reputation Management companies, know how to implement the most effective strategies for protecting a company’s online reputation. Specifically, these companies are proficient in monitoring your company’s online reputation, across the vast number of websites where your company’s online reputation could be compromised. Many of these companies use highly proprietary method for protecting and managing their clients’ online reputations.
As you may realize, it only takes one anonymous person to post something negative about your company online, for it to have a major impact on your business. Of course, the best way to protect your company’s online reputation is to do everything that is reasonably within your power to keep your customers and clients happy. If your company slips up in some way, and this results in a customer or client having a bad experience, it’s important that you take steps to rectify the situation with the customer or client. More importantly, it’s critical to resolve things in a way that exceeds the customer’s or client’s expectations. When your business goes above and beyond, to resolve issues that were initially negative, you could actually turn a negative experience into a positive one for your customers and clients.
Obviously, avoiding negative situations in the first place is the best way to avoid a potentially negative online review of your business. Since no business is perfect with everyone, though, it’s critical for your business to have a system in place, for resolving issues, directly with unhappy customers.
It’s not enough for only you and your upper management to be aware of your strategies for resolving negative customer experiences. In many cases, you and your upper management will not become aware of a negative experience that a customer had until you read their negative comments about your company online. As we alluded to above, most people will make their comments anonymously. This often means that there’s usually no way to properly resolve a negative experience, by the time you end up reading about it in a negative online review or online post about your company. It is absolutely essential that all of your employees, who interact directly with your customers, are trained on your company’s procedures for resolving negative experiences that your customers have.
Of course, in order to help ensure that your customers have a positive experience with your company, it’s vital that your employees, who interact with your customers, don’t do or say things that will result in the customer having a negative experience. A company could spend millions of dollars on advertising, marketing, providing the best product in your industry, and even hiring the best Reputation Management firm in the world. At the end of the day, though, if your employees are treating your customers poorly, or they are not properly doing their jobs, your company is going to have a major problem trying to manage your online reputation. It is critical, therefore, for you to know exactly how your employees are treating your customers.
Here’s a quick list of questions that you should ask yourself, to determine if you may have a potential problem on your hands, when it comes to your company’s online reputation. These questions apply to you, your managers, and any employees who interact with your customers in person, over the phone, via email, or through any other form of communication that your company employs for customer interactions:
Are they polite?
Do they smile?
Do they thank your customers when your customers make purchases with you?
Are they effective in providing the products and services that the customers have paid for?
Do they get back to your customers quickly, on matters that require a response?
Are they knowledgeable about your company’s products and services, in case the customer has a question?
Do they know how to handle things when the customer is not happy with something, so that your company stands the greatest chance possible of turning a negative experience into a positive experience?
Do they understand the importance of reporting any negative situations, so that you can be made aware of it, before it’s too late to resolve things?
Of course, this is just a sampling of general questions that can apply to just about any type of business. You will likely have additional criteria and questions that you can ask yourself, to determine how to avert potential problems for your specific type of business. For example, if you own a business that customers walk into, you may want to ask yourself these questions:
Is your store clean?
Are the bathrooms clean?
Do you stock the products that you advertise?
Do customers have to hunt down your employees for help?
If your business involves going to the location of your customers for appointments, here are some other questions to take into consideration:
Are your employees neat and clean when they arrive at the customer’s location?
Do they arrive on time?
Do they leave at the time that they’re supposed to leave or are they leaving too early or too late?
Do they perform the services or deliver the products to the customer’s location in a timely manner?
Do they leave the customer’s location in the same condition that it was in before they got there or do they leave a mess behind?
When they’re driving to and from the customer’s location, do they drive safely or aggressively?
Clearly, many of these questions are common sense oriented. Basically, you need to put yourself in the position of the customer and consider the various things that you would want if you were a customer of your business. Out of all of the things to consider, keep the following in mind: Many businesses greatly underestimate the importance of providing experiences that exceed the expectations of their customers. It’s unfortunate to think about how much time, money, and sacrifice goes into starting businesses, where there are employees who treat customers rudely. Similarly, it’s a shame to think about situations where so much time and effort goes into getting a new customer in the door, but then the customer is unable to get what they want, due to the employee not being trained properly, or some other circumstance that prevents a transaction from occurring.
It’s also too common these days for customers to walk into a store, pay for a product, and never receive a thank you or a smile from an employee. Something as simple as failing to thank your customers for their business can result in a reputation management nightmare for businesses. By the same token, the fact that so many businesses fail to train their employees, in this area of common courtesy, can be a huge opportunity for your company. If each of your employees were trained to give a warm smile and welcome to your customers and thank them for their business at the time of purchase, this small gesture alone would give you a major advantage over the majority of businesses, who do not instill these values in their employees.
If you’re the owner or a member of your company’s management team, you’re not going to be able to properly monitor this yourself. In other words, many employees have a tendency to suddenly remember all of the things they’re supposed to do, the moment the owner or manager is in their presence. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to have someone else, whom your employees don’t recognize, go through the entire experience that a typical customer goes through.
After someone else has done this, you can ask them questions, such as the ones we’ve stated above, to determine how good or bad their experience was.
You may also want to let your employees know that your company will be conducting regular, “mystery shopper” exercises, with the help of others who will be posing as customers. Obviously, when you send your mystery shoppers in to make a purchase, you do not want any member of management, or any owners, within view of the employees. In other words, you want to find out, directly from your mystery shoppers, exactly how your employees behave when you’re not there (assuming that there are times when you’re not in the presence of your employees).
Something else that you could do to stay in the loop, with regard to how your customers feel about doing business with you, is to survey them. These surveys can be sent out to your email list, sent through the postal mail, conducted right at your place of business, or they can take place over the phone. The survey questions can include many of the questions that we’ve listed above.
You should also include an area, on your survey, which allows the customer to write out, in their own words, anything else that they would like to share about their experience. When you include an area on your surveys, for your customers to express their own thoughts, in their own words, about their experience with your company, you could end up learning completely new things, positive or negative, that you never even considered. Many companies that conduct surveys make the mistake of only including multiple choice questions, or they’ll ask their customers to “rate” their experience on a numeric scale, for only the things that the company chooses to question the customer about. A huge opportunity is missed when your surveys do not allow the customers to tell you, in their own words, the things that were good or bad about their experience with your company.
The above suggestions cover several effective ways for you to identify and resolve problems, before they get out of control. You may also want to take other proactive steps, to manage your company’s online reputation, and see what other people are saying about your business.
While there are many different services and tools available, which enable you to see what others are saying about your company and proactively deal with negative reviews, we encourage you to check out the following resource first:
With so many companies fighting for market share, and doing whatever they can do to get new customers in the door, most companies are doing nothing to protect their reputations. In business, a company’s reputation can be its most valuable asset. Unfortunately, for most companies, they do not know how to protect their reputation or take the proper steps when their reputation is compromised. The resource we’ve recommended above will give you a massive advantage, when it comes to managing your company’s online reputation.
Please just keep in mind, though, that even if you have the best reputation management resources at your disposable, you absolutely must take positive steps, to help ensure a positive customer experience. In the same way that your business could be hurt by too many people saying bad things about your business, your business could also reap huge financial rewards, if people can’t help but rave about how impressed they were by your business and your employees.
In many regards, creating an experience that exceeds your customers’ expectations is just common sense and a matter of paying attention to the finer details. Just be sure, though, that those finer details are, in fact, given the proper attention. If you implement some of these strategies, your business could truly gain a huge advantage over the many companies that do not understand how vital it is to provide an exceptional customer experience.