Today, a company can live or die by the effectiveness of its corporate reputation management. The ease with which customers can share opinions with the world online is both a blessing, and a curse. Viral marketing can help your company to grow without spending a fortune on advertising, but when things go wrong, if your crisis communications are not perfect, then your brand could suffer massively.
The value of corporate reputation management is that it can be used to diffuse negativity, and thank and encourage those spreading positive feedback. This is especially useful when it comes to crisis communications – your customers are more likely to think well of your brand if you are able to solve any immediate problems whilst communicating clearly. In general, people are understanding that things can go wrong, however they aren’t understanding if you lie to them or try to shift blame to people that don’t deserve it.
The task of corporate reputation management should be given to someone who has a clear head and a good way with words. If that person is also doing crisis communications, then they should have the power to make the decisions and changes that may need to be made. There’s no point having someone tasked with corporate reputation management if they aren’t even able to authorize a free upgrade or a refund, let alone more specialist benefits or assistance for customers. You don’t have to bribe your customers to diffuse negative feedback (and in some cases, if a product is defective then the customer won’t want a replacement!), but being able to offer goodwill gestures, and find out what would make your customers happy is a good thing.
It is worth remembering that some customers do just like to complain, and are out to see how much free stuff they can get. Spotting which customers are genuinely upset, and which are just hoping for a freebie, is a knack that takes a while to develop. Usually, treating all customers equally within a set of pre-defined rules is a good plan, as it prevents escalating grievances when you get things wrong.
If you think that you are too small to need to worry about crisis communications, then you should think again. What would happen to your customers if you became ill, or if someone broke into your offices and stole important documentation? At the very least, you should put together a plan and some form letters to cover the worst possibilities. The last thing you want to do while in hospital is type up a letter informing your clients that you can’t work! Small companies, especially, tend to build their reputations on how well they communicate, and the ideal scenario would be to keep that reputation by handling emergencies well.
There are some companies that offer corporate reputation management training, which covers everything from dealing with complaints to handling social networking, marketing, and , crisis communications. For anyone but the most experienced of PR staff, this kind of training will be invaluable.