Matt Earle is an entrepreneur based in Toronto, Canada, and is the President of Reputation.ca, an online reputation management company.
Word-of-mouth has always been a powerful marketing force and is still essential today. Customer reviews and social media posts are just words-of-mouth writ large.
Managing your business’s reputation relies on monitoring word-of-mouth recommendations and adjusting to the feedback they give. The key isn’t to be reactive, though; it’s wise to be proactive with your customer service to prevent negative word-of-mouth.
To do this, you need to monitor your customer service channels. Watch for problems—especially those beyond what single users experience, and extend proactive customer service to your customers.
Develop Organized Customer Service
The first thing you need to do is efficiently organize customer service. Consider the kinds of customer service inquiries you receive. Most of them will likely be user errors or simple problems that a tier 1 help desk agent can solve. Some will be more complex and relate to bugs, issues, features that don’t exist or issues with third parties (like shipping companies). These can be automatically escalated to a tier 2 support agent.
The larger and more complex your business, the more you will need to divide and triage your support requests. Small businesses may not need multiple tiers of support, while larger companies might benefit from chatbot-style initial filtering.
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Investigate Customer Service Inquiries
Each time you get a customer service inquiry, categorize it and investigate it as necessary. Consider categories such as:
• Marketing: A coupon code doesn’t work, a marketer promised something the product can’t do, etc.
• User Error: They locked themselves out by mistyping their password, their monitor wasn’t turned on, etc.
• Bugs: Your product isn’t working as advertised, there’s unexpected behavior when a user does certain things in a particular order, etc.
Even something as simple as a recurring user error (X) may be a sign that you can improve your user experience to make X more straightforward about what to do or what they’re doing wrong.
Identify Affected Users And Offer Solutions
This step is where customer service comes in as part of reputation management.
• First, you want to do what you can to solve the issue of the immediately affected user. Fast, responsive customer service makes them feel better about their situation and your company, especially if you bend the rules in their favor.
• Second, investigate to see if the issue affects other users who may not have encountered it yet, who are just dealing with it or who are using a workaround. Reach out and offer them a solution, or fix the issue so it stops happening, and inform them of it.
• You may also want to consider offering a prorated discount, cost reduction or refund if the issue was enough to make people unable to use your product or service.
This process can help build a positive reputation that solves issues in a way that benefits your users—even though you may have problems from time to time.
Willingness To Bend The Rules
Policies are set to be a line in the sand you draw to avoid being exploited. Unlimited satisfaction guarantees can be abused, so you can cut off the people who would abuse them if you put limits in place. The trick is figuring out where to draw that line.
Typically, the best strategy for your reputation is to set the line somewhere on the more draconian side, but be flexible when customers are relatively friendly about their requests. It’s a way to reward customers for good behavior while still allowing you to cut off abuse.
Always Take Responsibility
Your product is your responsibility. Some issues will inevitably not be your fault. Still, you can address something simple—like a problem in shipping or user error on your end—to help the customer successfully navigate an issue.
While “the customer is always right” isn’t a great strategy, it’s the foundation of one. Satisfying your customers can help calm anger, promote goodwill and encourage a more positive reputation. It’s often the difference between a 1-star review and a 3- or 4-star review, which can have a massive impact on your overall reputation.
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Author: Matthew Earle, Forbes Councils Member