Your small business reputation is bound to be challenged at some point. As you grow, you become more exposed to customers, leads, competitors, and others in the market. When this happens, it can feel daunting. It’s important to remember that one misstep does not equate to the failure of your business.
These experiences are what shape small businesses. Just like any large corporation, your reputation matters. How to respond to these situations is a strong indicator of your long-term viability. Each lesson you learn is valuable and should not be taken lightly.
Here are 6 things you must do if (and when) your small business reputation is challenged to avoid a massive PR nightmare, long-term financial losses, or worse.
Make a Genuine Public Apology
Apologizing publicly is important, but it isn’t enough. You have to make sure it is genuine and comes across as such. If you try to tell people simply what you think they want to hear, it could do even more damage.
The best way to prove your apology is genuine is by your actions post-incident. Your apology will carry much more weight if you discontinue whatever required you to make it in the first place. Also be sure to follow through with your statements and do what you promise in your apology statement.
Accept Full Responsibility for Your Actions
You do not have to accept responsibility for everything all the time, but you do have to own up to your actions and decisions. Whether good or bad, your small business reputation matters a great deal. In some cases, it is the best differentiator you have against your competition.
Admitting to your mistakes and providing a good explanation as to how a resolution will be reached is your best line of defense. For small businesses in particular, the experience of a few customers can be the difference between profit and loss. Their happiness and loyalty are vital for continued success, especially in early stages of growth.
Release a Statement Using the Right Language
When you make your statement, it is important to use the right language. The individual words choose hold as much significance as the collective statement itself. Using words such a ‘understand’, ‘committed’, ‘take action’, ‘rectify,’ and ‘prevent’ can help your small business regain the trust it has lost and mend its reputation quicker.
Here is a sample statement using such language:
“We deeply apologize for the error that was made. We recognize and understand the significance of our mistake and are committed to rectifying and preventing its reoccurrence. We hope to prove that commitment by taking the following actions…”
Share Positive Customer Experiences
When your small business reputation is challenged, it is important to remind people of the positive things you have done and continue to do. By sharing positive customer experiences with your network in the face of bad press, you are able to reinforce what is good about your brand.
Of course, showboating or minimizing the negative statements about your business is not a good idea. How you share these testimonials should be done tactfully. Be sensitive to the thoughts and opinions of your customers, and do everything you can to balance the good with the bad.
Don’t React Rashly
The worst way to handle anything negative about your small business is to act in a rash, thoughtless manner. You should respond quickly, but the difference between an hour and three hours is marginal. Take the extra time to handle the situation with a clear mind and a thoughtful approach.
If you are quick to pull the trigger on anything, such as deleting or replying to an unflattering comment, it will only encourage further negativity toward your brand. Unless something is wildly offensive or outright false, you shouldn’t simply delete it.
Continue to Monitor Customer Engagement
You should monitor your small business reputation proactively. Search for company tags and mentions actively and often. Reply to customers on social media regularly. Answer questions in a timely fashion. In short, engage with your customers outside of the standard check-ins your small business does (i.e. invoices, annual customer surveys).
The closer you monitor customer engagement, the better able you will be to avoid challenges to your small business reputation. Keep your focus on adding value to your customers. This will provide you with ample opportunities to strengthen their brand loyalty and improve their retention to grow your business.
It’s important to have a plan in place before you find your small business reputation in question. Knowing how you will tackle bad press, a negative review, or a customer complaint gone public is all part of running a successful business. No one expects your business to be perfect. If you do it right and handle the situation with integrity, it will only build trust and value in your brand.