The advent of the internet and the subsequent rise of digital marketing have allowed brands to engage more directly with their audience. Being able to respond quickly to customer concerns and current events while fostering stronger, more authentic connections with consumers can be quite advantageous. However, the intimate dynamic this creates can backfire when organizations do or say something that doesn’t sit right with their audience.
If your company has been called out online by customers over something they perceive to be a mistake, it’s not too late to change course and repair the relationship. Below, members of Forbes Coaches Council give their best advice on how to address potential hits to your company’s reputation.
1. Continuously Express Your Human Side
If brands continuously express their human side and focus on their mission, being able to overcome a misstep will be easier. It’s when brands get arrogant and forget their beginnings that missteps become big mistakes that cost them more than they can publicly afford. People want brands to be perfect, but mostly they want brands to care about them. Fess up, make it right and move forward. – Miranda VonFricken, Miranda VonFricken Masterminds & Coaching
2. Decide If You Should Enter The Discussion
A brand first has to make a strategic choice about whether to enter discussions, in general. If so, before any communications, they should be prepared with a proactive crisis communication plan that details values as well as who will say what and when. Then, if and when the brand is called out, you’re not reacting. Instead, you’re carrying out an approved, carefully constructed plan that holds the value of the organization. – Nick Leighton, Exactly Where You Want to Be
3. Own The Mistake
Own your mistake, apologize and make amends. Taking these three simple steps will increase your credibility, authenticity and integrity. Those who embrace “little white lies” should give it up. It’s really not worth it. It’s so much easier to remember the truth than it is to maintain any deviation from being totally honest. It’s not always easy to admit to an error. However, we are all human, and that means we make mistakes. – Frances McIntosh, Intentional Coaching LLC
4. Respond Publicly And Find Resolution Privately
Brands and businesses that are publicly called out on Twitter need to publicly respond. Resolve the issue one-on-one with the complainer in private and, if possible, share the resolution publicly so that anyone can see that it was resolved. – Thom Pulliam, Unicorn Talent Club
5. Document Your Brand Voice
Avoid getting into trouble in the first place by documenting your brand voice. Some social catastrophes can be prevented with a plan. Determine what topics your brand will share about and how and what is off the table. While this can’t keep you away from all trouble, having your team think ahead to create canned responses and a tone in which to respond when fires get hot can keep you out of some hot water. – Heather Murphy, Authentically: Business & Life Solutions
6. Thank Them For Bringing The Issue To Your Attention
Someone who communicates with you is someone who cares. They care enough to express themselves, and you should be smart enough to seek clarification from them, if necessary, and thank them for bringing your misstep to your attention. Remember, what’s at issue is your misstep, not the fact that they shined a light on it. Thank them afterward. – Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
7. React With Real Integrity In A Timely Manner
First, continually monitor your reputation. It can be irreversibly damaged by not responding in a timely manner. Second, be grounded in your values. Your company values can’t be posted and then forgotten. They need to be the lifeblood of your organization, so much a part of every team member that all responses are aligned because they’re real. Practice integrity. Practice makes perfect. – Christine Rose, Christine Rose Coaching & Consulting
8. Aim To Be Authentic Rather Than Perfect
The most important thing to do is to be authentic. Missteps will happen. Instead of focusing on being overly cautious and trying to be perfect, do the best you can by building your business around your customers. This will strengthen the relationship with them so that when (not if) any mistakes are made, you can acknowledge, own and correct them so they won’t be repeated. Customers appreciate transparency and effort. – Dhru Beeharilal, Nayan Leadership, LLC
9. Clarify Your Intentions And Ask How You Can Best Recover
Acknowledge the misstep to demonstrate a sincere understanding of their needs and points of view. Articulate clear intentions and ask for feedback on how you can best recover. If the relationship was built with trust, it will recover and reset stronger. – Sheila Carmichael, Transitions D2D, LLC
10. Admit What You Could Have Done Better
This is a very delicate situation. In most cases, the full story has not been told, as “feedback” tends to be one-sided. It’s critically important to respond. If the information shared is false or not the full picture, share what you can, being careful to not sound defensive. Acknowledge the criticism, thank the sharer, admit to what you could have done better and offer your perspective. – Cheryl Czach, Cheryl Czach Coaching and Consulting, LLC
11. Let Company Leaders Respond Directly
Let company leaders respond directly to negative press, comments and critiques. Move them out of the backrooms and coach them on how to diplomatically respond and solve problems. This will disarm some. It will show the company cares enough to take comments seriously. Sometimes it means gently guiding a misguided critique toward a solution versus venting. Get your top people engaged. – John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
12. Give A Time Frame For A Detailed Response
Own it straight away. Let the market know you are aware of the error and give an exact time frame for a detailed response. Make it as soon as possible and lead with an apology. Identify the error, what caused it to occur, what the next plan will be and expected outcomes in the future if this ever occurs again. – Tyron Giuliani, Selling Made Social
13. Create A Crisis Cabinet
It is essential to create a crisis cabinet to provide an immediate response to future situations involving complaints. Members of this cabinet must bear in mind that it is very important to give immediate compensation, depending on the type of criticism. This will create a sense of a company oriented toward excellence in service, which will also show the market your commitment to your clients. – José Luís González Rodriguez, ActionCOACH
14. Share A Positive Narrative As You Recover
Be gracious and own up. Make it right by performing an excellent service recovery. The good thing about using the internet is that you get a lot more coverage. As you perform your service recovery, create a positive narrative that will not only inspire customers to forgive, but also increase brand loyalty. – Chuen Chuen Yeo, ACESENCE
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a
member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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