Your reputation, strengthened or negated by word-of-mouth, is one of the most difficult things to build and one of the easiest to destroy. You must be committed to developing and protecting your good name at all costs… it is one of your most precious assets.
How do you develop and preserve an exemplary reputation? First, you must believe that honesty, credibility and consistency are right… both personally and professionally.
Second, you must consistently deliver what you promise… no exceptions.
And finally, you must build and maintain positive relationships, and treat everyone with kindness and respect, regardless of the situation.
Here’s a personal example. When I help found my own small, competitive long-distance company I developed a policy on treating customers with specific guidelines and scripts for dealing with difficult ones. Sometimes our service consultants were in the unenviable position of having to terminate a customer’s service for nonpayment. As you might expect, this often resulted in a frustrated, angry or regretful call into our service center.
We could have used the opportunity to chastised and pressure these folks… many companies do. However, no matter what the outcome of the call, we made sure that every person was treated with kindness and respect. . . just as you would treat a friend or family member. Our representatives made every attempt to help these customers… often taking great leaps of faith. And the customers appreciated it! Why? Because it's so rarely done these days! In other words, we continued to serve when others would not have.
This one policy resulted in more positive testimonials than our other, more formalized, programs. You’d be amazed at how many of these folks ended up becoming some of our best, and most loyal, customers.
I recently read Malcolm Gladwell's masterful book, “Blink", where he talks about a recent research study where patients who sued physicians for malpractice, and those that chose not to, responded. The purpose of the research was to uncover why some people decided to sue a doctor over a “technical” error and others, whose physicians had committed identical errors, did not. What did they find out? Not surprisingly, the folks who did not sue indicated that they chose not to because they “liked” their doctor! Overwhelmingly, they said that he/she treated them with kindness, respect and really listened to their problems and tried to find solutions. They essentially “forgave” the technical error because they felt that their doctor really cared.
This was not so for the other group… A full 80% of the patients who did sue cited poor “bedside manner” as a major factor in their decision. Bottom line: Everybody wants to feel appreciated and respected, regardless of the circumstances!
During my years as an executive of my own company, I felt tense before answering strangers’ fated question, “So, Mary, what do you do for a living?” I was braced for anything from a blank stare to a tirade of complaints. Yet, not one of my current, or former, customers ever complained about how they were treated by any employee of the company… even though they may have had other concerns (for example billing errors, service outages). I was also grateful to learn that many ‘defectors’ eagerly recommended our company to others.
As a person far wiser than me said, “A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was. ” (Joseph Hall) So, it's wise to remember that a stellar reputation isn't gained only when things go right but when they go wrong as well.
And as a matter of fact, the way you treat others may actually “save you" if things really begin to unravel… because you're going to meet the same people on the way down as you did on the way up!
Copyright 2005 Mary Eule
Mary Eule specializes in helping small and medium-sized businesses get and keep profitable customers. Formerly a Fortune 500 marketing executive; founder of two successful small businesses and award-winning speaker, Ms. Eule is President of Strategic Marketing Advisors, LLC. and co-author of a new book, " Mandatory Marketing: Small Business Edition". She holds a master degree in marketing from Johns Hopkins University. Log onto http://www.StrategicMarketingAdvisors.com for free articles, newsletter and helpful tools, tips and templates.