Three Ways to Ruin Your Business Reputation

Funny how the minute I use the word 'reputation' ears prick up. We all know the power of a good reputation, and the damage a bad one can do. Businesses are concerned over matters like their environmental impact; Fair-trade policies; adherence to health and safety standards; etc because those issues impact on their reputation. A good reputation drives good publicity and ultimately longevity of a business. A bad reputation leads to bad publicity (whether via the media or simply the power of 'word-of-mouth'), lost customers, and can ultimately result in business failure.

This article is not about to focus on environmental impact, Fair-trade policies, or health and safety. What it is going to focus on is three other areas that customers find critically important. Customers are, after all, the lifeblood of your business. If we as businesses are not delivering what our customers deem important they will drift away and go to our competitors that are. Specifically we are going to address three customer satisfaction issues that impact on your business reputation.

I recently hosted a survey among a group of consumers, to find out what key issues made them extremely dissatisfied with a service provider. The following three issues came up over and over and over again. They were:

1. Recurrent Mistakes - with little or no attempt to prevent future occurrence,
2. Disrespectful behavior from a member of staff
3. Appalling Telephony Systems.

Recurrent Mistakes

No one is saying that we have to be perfect and are not allowed to ever make mistakes. Humans, being imperfect as we are, will always need to allow a margin for error. The problem comes in when people do not learn from their mistakes and keep on doing the same wrong things repeatedly. A number of complaints I have heard are around the lack of effort to correct mistakes.

There could be different reasons why mistakes are repeated. At times a lack of skills or training is to blame. At other times it is a personnel issue - either the wrong person has been assigned to do the job, or the employee involved is simply careless and takes no pride in their work. And of course a management issue is often involved - failing to address issues before they escalate (be they training, staffing, or attitude issues).

Disrespectful Behavior from a Staff Member

Now while you as a business owner are gasping that none of your employees would ever treat a customer disrespectfully, 2 out of every 5 people I surveyed (that's almost half of them) have a different view! The kind of behavior that they find disrespectful includes:

• An inconsistent level of service from different people in the same organization;
• Discrimination based on their perceived value (or lack thereof) as a client;
• Staff members unwilling to take responsibility;
• A member of staff who obviously
regards customer interaction as an interruption; and
• Unfulfilled promises (phone calls and emails not returned; promises not followed through; etc).

Would it surprise you to know that Harvard Business School conducted a study a few years ago, which established that nearly two thirds of customers that leave an organization do so as a direct result of bad service or discourtesy from a member of staff? And it's not just junior members of staff that are guilty of disrespectful behavior either. In my survey there was evidence of managers and other senior people giving their junior staff very poor examples to follow.

Appalling Telephony Systems

Ooh, now this is a hot-potato isn't it? Customers hate call centers!

We can all relate personal experiences of being caught in an automated loop with no quick way to a real, live person; or being stuck with ""option 1, option 2, and option 3" whether our call had anything to do with those options or not; and when we do actually get to speak to somebody on the other end, often they can't actually help us at all.

Is it the call center per se that is the problem? Or is it perhaps the individuals on the other end of the telephone that either enhance or ruin your experience?

There are two distinct areas here that need addressing, and both relate to training. On the one hand, customers need to be better educated to use the alternatives available to them. I feel qualified to say (because I am frequently guilty of this myself) that if the customer first referred to their user manual / policy document / the business website; there would probably be no need to pick up the telephone at all. On the other hand, the staff within these call centers need to be more adequately trained in product knowledge and in effective use of the telephone.

Let's face it, as a customer, I would have no objection (nor be any the wiser) to my call being answered anywhere and by anyone, as long as my call was efficiently dealt with.

It's easy to see how failing in these three areas can completely ruin our business reputation. Customers talk. Fact. We really don't want them spreading negative publicity about us. I've heard it said that a happy customer will share their story with one or two close friends, but an unhappy customer will tell everyone they can! So then is there an easy way to protect our reputations? Absolutely Yes!

These issues (and indeed many others too) can usually be resolved by the following three steps:

1. Sharpening the recruitment process - finding the right people, and putting them in to the right roles;
2. Managing problem staff more closely - being close to the causes, is it motivation, attitude, or a skills gap?
3. Providing an adequate, ongoing, and consistent training and personal development programme for all members of staff.

Solve these and you’re well on your way!