Most businesses, especially small businesses, shouldn’t compete on price. For one thing, it’s a race to the bottom; for another, larger companies can soon eclipse your lowest prices with their economies of scale. Instead, businesses tend to compete on what’s called “differentiation,” the unique qualities that make their offerings different from anyone else’s.
You can differentiate based on your product or your market, on what you offer or how you offer it, on your location, your timing, the free cookies you offer to every customer, or any combination of those qualities (when in doubt, give out more cookies). But no matter how you differentiate, your success can hinge on one thing: your business’s reputation.
Reputation has always been crucial to businesses, but in the past 10 years, building and maintaining a good reputation has become both easier and more difficult, thanks to the advent of online communications that go both ways: not just from a company to its potential customers, but from those customers back to a company. Now, if your customers have a lackluster experience, not only do you have to worry about them telling their immediate circle of friends, you have to worry about them posting about the experience to sites that can be read by the world at large.
So how do you give your business a sterling reputation — and keep it that way?
1. Know your reputation.
The best way to know how you’re doing is to ask your customers. Information-gathering tools can be as simple as a short survey, ideally with a small incentive for completing it. If you’re really serious about knowing your reputation, contact the customers who seem to have ceased using you and offer an incentive for their feedback on your performance.
You can also use online research to see how you’re perceived beyond your existing customer base. Set up Google Alerts for your company’s name and you can have company mentions sent directly to email or an RSS reader.
2. Strengthen your reputation.
If your research reveals clear problems, obviously, fix them quickly. You might also learn that your product is good, but not great; if so, begin investigating ways to deliver the best customer experience you can (after all, that’s what you’re competing on). Learn from all the information you receive from your customers, and share your learning through your company’s blog, Facebook page, etc.
To strengthen your company’s customer service experience, recognize that everyone in your company, whether or not they officially interface with customers, is in the position of offering great customer service—or awful customer service. Be sure they’re all trained to provide the former.
3. Promote your reputation.
Bad news might attract more attention than good news, but a strong foundation of good reviews and reports of positive experiences can build a reputation that can withstand the occasional barb from a cranky customer. If you know you’ve got some happy customers, ask them for reviews and testimonials. (If you’re a B2C business, you can use a small incentive for these reviews, such as a coupon; if you’re B2B, don’t incentivize, just ask.)
Even bad reviews or comments can provide a great opportunity to bolster your reputation, if you can respond to these comments with politeness and a genuine desire to improve the commenter’s experience. This has the double impact of the attention that bad news gets plus a chance to show how great your company can be.
At any stage of the reputation-building process, Reliance can help. We can provide you with market research associates and receptionists to learn about your reputation, customer service specialists to strengthen your reputation and even communications and social media professionals to promote your reputation.
What about you? What kinds of experiences have you had in discovering how your company is viewed by your market? Let us know in the comments!Share this Post