Learning to Defend Your Brand Online is a reputation management practice that should be in every customer service 101 course. It takes years to build a brand, unfortunately, there aren’t many shortcuts. You build a brand—like a reputation, one impression at a time. Every encounter with a customer results in either a “deposit” or a “withdrawal” in your “brand account.”
Twenty years ago, if a customer had a bad experience with your company, it didn’t matter quite as much. Sure they could tell their friends, and if enough people had bad experiences, they could tell their friends. Eventually, it would catch up with you. But it didn’t happen overnight.
But today, things are different. Digital communication has changed everything. If a customer has a bad experience, they can email friends, Twitter followers, or blog their experience. In the blink of an eye, one bad experience can cascade into thousands—and even millions—of impressions. Brands can be damaged in a few days.
This kind of critique activity gets replicated hundreds of times a day. It can also happen in chat rooms, and discussion forums. I experienced this phenomenon first-hand when I had a bad customer experience recently. I Twittered about the experience and then posted it onto Facebook. I was amazed at how people piled on with one bad customer story after another.
This got me to thinking. If you are responsible for building or maintaining a brand, and this includes every CEO, business owner, marketer, publicist, and customer service representative, you need to know how to defend your brand online. The stakes have never been higher.
Here are seven suggestions for defending your brand in the digital age:
- Build an online presence. The time to build an audience is before you need it. You need people for whom you add value, a small army of followers, if you will, who can help you when you need it. This is why every CEO, brand manager, and department leader should create a blog, a Facebook page, and get active on Twitter.
It’s really not that difficult, even for the technically challenged. If you really don’t have a clue, enlist the help of a co-worker, or perhaps even your children!
If I had to select one place to start, I would pick Twitter. Then I would create a Facebook page. Finally, I would start a blog. I don’t think there’s a less expensive way to create brand equity than by using these three tools.
- Monitor the conversation. You must use online tools to monitor what is being said about your company and your brands. I use Google Alerts to monitor news and blogs. I use Hootsuite to monitor Twitter. These tools enable you to engage in the art of “digital listening.”
As a result, I know within minutes when someone mentions me, my company, or one of my brands. I know precisely what is being said, by whom, and how I can respond if I choose to do so. It’s never been easier to eavesdrop on what your customers are saying. And it doesn’t cost you a cent.
- Respond quickly to criticism. Like the old ad says, “speed kills.” If you don’t respond quickly, you lose control of the conversation. It takes on a life of its own.
- Admit your mistakes. Why is this so difficult? When you muck up, the only, and I mean ONLY acceptable response is to take full ownership. “Sir, I am so sorry that you have had this experience. There is no excuse. We made a terrible mistake, and we’re going to make it right.” If you catch yourself apologizing and then using the word “but,” stop dead in your tracks and back up. That little conjunction should be like a blinking red light, indicating that you are not taking ownership.
Unfortunately, the use of “but” completely negates the apology.
If you are going to apologize—and you should—make it a full apology. Avoid the word “but” like the plague. Take the hit to your pride and own the problem. The customer is always right. Even when he isn’t.
- Understand the lifetime value of the customer. I first heard the concept in my early customer service training days. It does not take long to figure out what a customer is worth beyond more than a single transaction.
What is the lifetime value of your customers or constituents? Have you ever stopped to calculate it? Not only do you need to understand what is at stake, but so do your people. It is literally the future of your business and your brand.
- Empower your employees to solve problems. As a customer, there is nothing worse than having a head-on collision with bureaucracy. We’ve all been there. “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to check with my supervisor.” Or worse, “I’d like to help, but we have a policy against that.It is amazing how fast you can turn a bad customer experience into a good one when you empower frontline employees to solve problems immediately, without delay. Nothing communicates to your customers that your company values them more than this.
- Exceed your customers’ expectations. Every customer problem is an opportunity to create a WOW experience. But it’s not enough to meet their expectations, you have to exceed them. Anything less is merely restitution. It just gets you back to even.
Question: So what are people saying online about your brand? Do you even know? More importantly, what are you doing about it?
For more information on concepts such as lifetime value of the customer and how to defend your brand online; enroll in my FREE 5 part online Customer Service e Course by CLICKING HERE.