Negative word of mouth travels 5 times faster and farther than positive word of mouth. Said differently, for every person you piss off, you have to make 5 happy just to break even. More disappointing, people are MUCH more likely to share negative opinions than positive ones. That means for every person you piss off, you need to make maybe 10 or 20 people happy. And people are more likely to share the negative word of mouth they hear, even if they just overhear it in a retail setting without experiencing the service failure themselves. That means for every person you piss off, you may have to make 100 people happy. And, reputation management is the process of moderating negative attitudes.
In social networks, a few negative comments can go viral — fast. Just as there are influencers you cater to in an effort to magnify your message online, these are the same people who can destroy your business with negative word of mouth. Ironically, the power of social networks makes them potentially very dangerous by allowing amplification of negative as well as positive comments.
Of course, the simple answer is to ensure you don’t piss people off in the first place–to have an effective reputation management system in place. In product businesses, this is easier, especially with firms employing continuous improvement and 0 defect strategies. It’s harder in services because they can’t be inventoried.
So, how do you handle your online reputation? The same way you handle your offline reputation.
1. Don’t overpromise, overdeliver
Remember when you were a little kid and your mom promised to stop for ice cream or some other treat. Think how pissed off you were if she couldn’t deliver — even if it wasn’t her fault. Maybe the store was closed or you ran out of time to stop. Maybe it was even your fault — maybe you threw a temper tantrum after she warned you not to.
Regardless of the reason, if you didn’t get the treat, you were MAD. Any you may have told all your friends how unfair your mother was. Maybe you became less cooperative and refused to clean your room. Maybe you tried to sabotage her by making an especially big mess while taking a bath that night.
Consumers do the same thing. Even when they are the ones who didn’t perform, they hold your company responsible when you don’t give them what you promised. They might tell everyone they know what a bad company you are. They might not cooperate in ways that cost you money — for instance paying with pennies or holding up the boarding process on your plane while they slowly load their luggage in the overhead bins. Maybe they sabotage* you by reshelving items to make them hard for other customers to find or other behavior.
If, on the other hand, you give them more than you promised they think they got a great deal. They’re thrilled and can’t wait to tell everyone about their good fortune. They encourage their friends to get “in on the action”.
Listen to customers, train your employees to listen, and set up online tools to track what customers are saying about you. If you hear them complaining, see if the problem can be fixed. If they’re complaining about something that can’t be fixed, own it. Don’t expect it’s just going to go away. You made a mistake, you can’t fix it so say so. Apologize, then explain what you’ve done to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.
One of the biggest problems BP had is they didn’t listen and respond appropriately to their various publics — consumers, fishermen, environmentalists, homeowners, etc. Instead, the CEO went off to see his yacht race. It didn’t look like he lost much sleep over the disaster his company caused.
3. Plan for Service Failures
It’s nearly impossible to perform at 100% every day**.
Monitor what’s going on in the business and change processes that lead to service failures. For instance, I was in BB&T today trying to wire some funds to another account. There must have been 6 employees in the bank and no one was authorized to send a wire. It’s not like the guy who handles that was at lunch, they just didn’t schedule anyone who had the authority to send wires to work that particular day. And, this was’ t the first time this had happened in this bank. NOT GOOD.
Empower employees. When something happens, give them the tools and incentives to fix the problem. In the example of the BB&T failure above, the bank might have offered some solution (other than having me drive to another branch). They might have offered to wave fees for a cashier’s check and offered to overnight the check to the other bank — for instance.
Have contingency plans When something goes wrong, you don’t have time to think about the solution, let alone gather the resources necessary to put them in place. The time to develop contingencies is before there’s a problem.
*Lloyd C. Harris and Emmanuel Ogbonna Service Sabotage: A Study of Antecedents and Consequences Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 2006; 34; 543
**An Empirical Investigation of Customer Satisfaction after Service Failure and Recovery
McCollough, Berry, and Yadav. Journal of Service Research.2000; 3: 121-137
What is your company doing to manage its reputation?
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