Polishing a Tarnished Reputation: Lessons in Customer Service

Great news has arrived this week—no more oil is leaking in the Gulf!  Not only is there no leakage, but the reports coming in are saying that the coastline is clean.  However, look at those beaches—nobody is there.  The only sound on those shores is that of waves flowing over the sand and pebbles. 

So many businesses on the Gulf coast depend heavily on the summer tourist season in order to make ends meet for the rest year.  Unfortunately, the media coverage of the oil spill left Gulf vacationers with the impression that every inch of the coast was covered in oil and tar balls when that was not the case.  The business owners down there are having to contend with a tarnished reputation; so what do you do in that case?  How do you correct a bad impression?

First you have to figure out what you did, what your employees did, or what some third party (that you have no control over) did that got you into the hole.  You can’t fix something unless you know the cause of its problems.  Figuring out the cause is the easy part—just keep an eye on your comment boxes, blogs, and social networking sites.  People will talk and you will soon hear what they have to say about your business.

Second, put a plan together.  Think about what you know needs to happen, what your customers want to see happen, and how to prevent the problem from happening again.  Customers can forgive one major mistake; it may take some time, but they can be willing to give second chances.  Let disaster strike twice and the odds of recovery are greatly reduced, which is pretty bad because the odds of recovering the first time are low enough as it is.

Third, communicate with your customers.  If you made a mistake, admit to it and correct it or you will permanently damage your business.  If someone else made a mistake but your business is still having to pay the price for it, let your customers know that yes, a mistake was made and although it was not yours, you are still wanting to make things right your customers because you value them that much.  Tell your customers how you plan to fix the problem and give them a rough timeline for completion (by the way, always give yourself a buffer on time limits because things tend to go wrong at the worst moments).

Finally, you need to put your plan into action and have tangible evidence that improvements are being made.  Keep detailed logs, make status charts, send out a weekly or monthly report letting your customers know how the improvements are progressing; and throughout the entire process, from beginning to end, keep a positive attitude.  Positivity is infectious and without optimism, you have absolutely no hope of recover.

So, with that in mind, put on a brave face and take one day at a time.

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