Dealing with Reputation Management Issues

It is always best that you do proactive reputation management… meaning try to improve your online positive reputation and reviews before you get into a problem. If you can build lot’s of positive online reviews or positive profiles then the future negative content will have less of a chance to rank in SERPs.

Make Customers Aware That You Are Trying to Improve Your Products

Let’s say you made a mistake and tried to cut too many corners. Maybe the overseas factory you pay to make your $500 luxury leather jackets found out that it could save 50¢ per jacket if it only stitched the zipper teeth on with one thread instead of two. They bring you a prototype and you tell them to go ahead and do a test run for quality control. They produce a sample of the new jackets and run them through wear and tear tests and find that there is no statistically significant increase in the chance that the zipper teeth fall off from the jacket with two threads to the jacket with one thread. You are uneasy about it, but numbers do not lie, so you give them the green light.

Everything goes fine for a few years until you start getting complaints that the jackets’ zipper teeth are falling off. You do not know how this could have happened since the quality assurance engineers ran tests in the factory. It turns out that the factory designed their test poorly. Their test did not accurately model the effects general use has on the jackets, so your jacket falls apart, even though the numbers showed that they would not. Nobody wants to buy your jackets anymore because the zipper teeth fall off after a few years.

Save Your Reputation

You could blame the Chinese factory, but you gave them the green light and you hold the overall responsibility for the quality of your product. You should have examined their QA test, and even if it had met your standards, your customers would not forgive you for just blaming somebody else. To them, it would look like they paid the price for your greedy attempt to cut corners.

Take Responsibility

The only choice then, is to apologize, and let them know you’re working hard to make a better product. First, you need to take responsibility, even if you frame it like a mistake. This means that you swiftly apologize for what happened. The apology needs to be strong; you absolutely cannot say, “We are sorry if anybody is unhappy with the quality of our jackets.” Instead, say, “We are sorry that your zipper teeth fell off.”

After you take responsibility and apologize, you need to consider whether to fix the mistake. For a product like a leather jackets, this could be difficult and it might be better to tell people how to fix it (take it to a tailor and pay a few dollars for a second stitch) than to have them send in their jackets. If you choose to do this, you should frame it as an offer to fix the mistake, not as a recall of your products.

Then, you need to actually make your products better. In this case, you could go to the factory and force them to use two threads again. Switching to a new factory entirely (because this one does not do good wear and tear tests) could bring in a whole new host of quality problems. You need to reverse the threading decision and also look at their assembly process with your own production engineers and eliminate other areas where corners are being cut.

Speak with Customers

Now, customers vent their anger on social media and their moods can spread to all of their friends. Their friends see them as trust agents and take what they say to generally be true. This means that somebody reading something that their friends wrote or shared on Facebook or Twitter can have a bigger impact than them seeing the same thing on the front page of the New York Times. Furthermore, the younger the audience, the more likely they are to use search engines and social media to learn about things.

Before social media became popular, indirect marketing was often a one-way street in that companies sent people messages and those people received those messages. Companies got less feedback from customers and speaking with them was more expensive and time-consuming. They would often conduct surveys but this would produce sample populations that did not provide them with data that represents the correct population. On the other hand, though monitoring social media and websites does not give a random sample population, it does let companies see who is talking about them poorly.

Genuine Engagement

Many websites now have an automated greeter manned by someone from their sales team. The greeter sends the person a message in a pop up window, and the sales person talks to them if they respond. This produces a personal connection and adds a personal touch to their experience. While the potential customer will not see the salesperson as a trust agent, they will still likely feel less lost and more comfortable with your product.

This concept can be applied to reputation management as well. If somebody is unhappy with your product, the last thing they want is to be treated in an impersonal fashion. Frequently, customers will feel betrayed after your reputation is damaged, because the damage is caused by something you did. Even if it does not affect the product, it could still affect whether or not people see your company as having honesty and integrity.

Speaking with your customers after your reputation gets damaged lets them know that you care about them. They see that you are taking the time to reach out to them after you have done something that reduces your reputation in their eyes. The main thing to remember is, like in the previous chapter, to be honest and upfront with what you have done. If people are already thinking about not trusting you, issuing a false apology does not help and could be worse than not saying anything.

With the internet, you can reach out to people individually by email or social media. But some people who have not been affected will look up the disaster on search engines. If you do nothing, they will see articles about the disaster itself. Let’s say British Petroleum wants to spin how people see the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Now, if you look up “BP oil spill” on Google, you’ll find (as of May 24, 2012) mostly negative articles, but BP has done some work to improve their reputation.

BP bought some AdWords ads asking people to visit the gulf, which implies that the disaster has been mostly cleaned up and not damaged the environment much (otherwise they wouldn’t be able to visit it). They also have YouTube videos about them cleaning up the spill that ranks high on Google Search for “BP Oil Spill.”