Managing your reputation online

“You cannot opt out of any of this. You cannot opt out of social media. You cannot opt out of online reputation management. It’s going to happen. Just having a web page isn’t enough.”

Those are the comments of Matt Bullington, the fourth generation owner of the tiny but iconic Texas Tavern diner in downtown Roanoke, VA, quoted in Valley Business Front magazine. A popular late-night stop with a ready-made audience of hungry partygoers in a small southern city, it wouldn’t seem like Bullington would be too concerned about his company’s online reputation. But concerned he is.

You cannot opt out of online reputation management.

Why? Whereas word-of-mouth was once the way consumers shared their opinions, today social media is the source. Whether it’s the latest books or movies, cars, daycares, or even a place to quell the munchies, a company’s online reputation—the way it’s perceived in social media—is more important than ever.

Consider this example from Scott Stratten’s UnMarketing blog: A businesswoman had purchased a package of yoga classes and was disappointed to learn that they had an expiration date, a fact that wasn’t immediately clear to her upon purchase. Sarah took to Twitter to vent her frustration:

reputation

So far, so good—Sarah has expressed her opinion. How is this good for the provider of the yoga classes, Benchmark Group? They now have an opportunity to publicly address Sarah’s concerns and win some converts for their customer service and friendliness. It sounds counter-intuitive, but a well-handled complaint can often be a chance to win loyal customers.

However, as you can read from Stratten’s post, Benchmark fumbled their chance to build goodwill. The replies from the Tanya, the person handling social media for the company, make one wince:

  • “I would kindly ask you to act more professional” (D’oh—don’t insult the customer!)
  • “This is not good for you and very unprofessional way to represent yourself out there and quite unfair towards Benchmark Group as we did nothing but follow business policies.” (You’re misbehaving, Sarah, and we’re just following the rules we made. You should know better.)
  • “I have just checked your profile on LinkedIn and I will make you VERY AWARE – that you we have a few mutual connections including a couple very senior Directors and CEOs. I am very well connected in the industry with over 7 years of experience recruiting talent in this vertical. You never know where your future career will be.” (You’ll never work in this town again!)
  • “…act a little more grown up.” (Again with the name calling!)

Fortunately, sanity prevailed. What did company owner Mark say right?

  • “Not only do I accept full responsibility as the business owner, I also apologize for the unacceptable customer service you received and regret how this was handled…” (Great!)
  • “If attending future classes, (free of charge) or providing you with a refund will help create a better experience, kindly let me know and we’ll ensure you are presented with the option of your choosing.” (A full refund or free classes! Perfect!)

And most importantly, Mark realized his error in letting someone untrained in customer service or social media handle this role for company:

  • “As mentioned, Tanya is a subcontracted yoga instructor that has been providing administrative work, emailing clients about accounts/class status – while I seek a new intern. Given the gravity of this matter, Tanya’s interaction with you, and my stance on integrity, professionalism, and customer service, she has been dismissed.”

Remember, your company’s brand is everything. As Texas Tavern owner Matt Bullington says, “Your behavior will be exhibited for everyone to see for a long time. You always want to take the high road and be respectful, even with somebody who’s accusing you of something.” Mark understood that and probably pulled the plane out of its nosedive in Sarah’s case.

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