The good news is that you can have some help online, for example by hosting a positive and proactive conversation with your customers on a company blog.
While you're fixing your business process so your delivery matches or exceeds your customers' expectations you may want to consider addressing any concerns and criticism in a public forum, online.
Why online? Everyone is online. Online is easy to spot, track and measure. It boggles my mind why more companies are not listening and acting.
While many of your customers may not participate (see Forrester's ladder), you can be sure that the results of your actions will become a permanent digital record for when they will search for services like yours. You want to make those impressions good.
Whether you use blogs, community boards, or are proactive in listening and responding, there are several reasons why you'd want to act:
- The role of traditional media is not to talk about how you are improving, that is yours. Plus, what usually happens is that media may cover your flaws, but in that space you are left on the defensive without an opportunity to design the conversation around what you are doing about fixing the problems. Remember also that public relations means relations with the public, not just the media.
For example, when involved in a crisis, consider implementing a dark site where you have the chance to update the community affected as well as the public at large. How about making that site two-way? The more information you share, the less scrutiny you face - when you can, be open; when you can't, be honest.
- It gives your most vocal critics ways to channel that passion in a space you either host or join. If they did not care, they would not bother talking about you in the first place. It gives you the opportunity to address similar concerns that customers or prospects on the fence have but have not been vocal about. They are watching and keeping score, you can be sure of that.
For example, I know that some of the toughest critics of Comcast are now starting to think differently about the cable giant. That is on the strength of repeated and visible action by one person on Twitter - Frank Eliason, a customer service rep with a team at his service, and yours.
- As you are responding, you may find plenty of solid advice. When you are in a position to shift the conversation to positive, you can then receive permission to create a proactive forum for ideas. Dell has IdeaStorm. Note how they put in place a mechanism to allow the community to vote for the best ideas and a system to show you where an idea is along the process - for example, "in review."
In the end, the most important measure for reputation is trust. We discussed the recent Harris Interactive Annual Survey of US Companies at MarketingProfs DailyFix.
In some cases, the reputation of your business and your personal reputation may be one and the same. Have you looked yourself up? Aside from generating a more positive online footprint as SEO experts would recommend, what should you do to address the negative entries?
There is a crop of older and new companies that can help you keep an eye on your reputation - LexisNexis, Naymz, MyPublicInfo, Techrigy, and more. This is not advice, mind you, they are options available to you. I recommend a broader view of reputation, which is that of what others are saying about you and your business and putting your best foot forward pro-actively.
If you are seeking help in understanding and learning more about your corporate reputation, as well as assistance in measuring and managing it, you might consider also talking to the Reputation Institute. [cowgirl hat tip to Richard Binhammer]