Corporate Reputation Management

Few PR activities are as important as corporate reputation management, but lots of organizations are having trouble shifting to the customer-centric mindset their publics increasingly demand from them.

The truth is, bad corporate reputation management is quite common, and often comes from forgetting to think through the customer’s likely response to certain activities.

Banks making it harder on struggling seniors while posting record profits? As consumer reporter Ellen Roseman points out, that didn’t go over so well with seniors or anyone who has ever loved one. Neither did the case of the energy retailer that made every mistake in the book while trying to roll out news of additional cancellation charges, including by burying the news underneath improvement announcements.

In both cases, the companies backed down, which begs the question: how necessary were these changes in the first place if each company could abandon them so easily?

It’s human nature to not want to have to tell people things they aren’t going to like. But when a corporation appears to hide changes or news consumers won’t like behind complicated language or other distractions, the public loses trust and business runs on trust. No amount of corporate reputation management can immediately build that trust back up.

Marketing departments sometimes launch corporate reputation management initiatives that fail in interesting ways. Rogers recently had a doozy when it launched a new service with a promoted hashtag on Twitter called #Rogers1number.

Customers used the occasion to attach their complaints to the hashtag and vent their anger at the company, which looked blissfully unaware of how many perceive them in the marketplace. To their credit, Rogers was quick tell the Twitterverse that they were listening to the complaints and trying to learn from them. Whether that will result in a cultural shift within the organization or was simply a PR crisis communications move to deflate this situation remains to be seen.

That may have been dissent by convenience but as a rule, by the time someone takes to Twitter to complain about a company, they’re pretty angry. Social Media speaker and author Jay Baer ties together a couple of related studies in this blog post, and notes that only about 29 per cent of companies even respond to complaints on Twitter. That means 71% don’t extend their corporate reputation management into social media, even though that’s where some of their most dissatisfied customers are.

Of the customers who have dealt with the 29% of companies that do deal with Twitter complaints, there is certainly anecdotal evidence to suggest they get better results. Many, myself included, have found satisfaction via Twitter when calls to help desks and 1-800 numbers went nowhere. Some companies, it seems, are a bit more responsive to complaints in public than in private.

I’d like to hope that most companies would want to have employees who will champion the customer’s point of view when someone new is suggested.

But I’m not sure.

Companies aren’t always good at hiring those who aren’t afraid to ask the harder questions internally before they get asked externally. But they should be; a company of “yes men” will ultimately lead to mediocrity and complacency.

It will also lead to a workplace incapable of hiring the best and the brightest. An emerging generation of worker has been raised to assume their opinions matter and they simply won’t stay where they don’t have a say. Some will go to where they will be heard. Others may go out and invent something new, perhaps even a competitor capable of reinventing the industry all together.

And at that point, not many will weep for those left in the dust, choking on corporate reputation management theory when really they needed to start with the customer and work back from there.

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