Sometimes, even when we're careful, we make mistakes.
When that happens, your brand can be severely damaged if you don't have a plan in place for damage control. If you truly want to ensure that problems don't have a lasting effect on your business, you need to develop a reputation damage control plan that all employees follow.
But what should your reputation damage control plan look like? And how can you best put these practices in place starting today, even if your employees aren't used to following a set plan?
Questions an Online Reputation Damage Control Plan Should Answer
Your Reputation Damage Control Plan might be a full 100-page document or it might be a few simple paragraphs. The complexity of this plan will depend on the size and nature of your business. But no matter what, every plan should answer the following questions:
- When a problem is discovered, who should reply to the customer?
- How and to whom should the problem be reported?
- How quickly should a customer be answered?
- What reply should be given when the problem can't be handled immediately?
- What answers should be given to commonly reported problems?
- How should customers be answered when your initial response wasn't good enough?
- What are the procedures if a member of the press asks for a statement?
- When does a lawyer need to be consulted before a reply is given?
Keep in mind that your damage control plan may need to cover a wide variety of potential problems. These typically fall into a few broad categories:
- Scandals - this is when someone in your company is caught doing something illegal, like an accountant embezzling money
- Mistakes - typically, mistakes don't include illegal activity, but are brand-damaging problems, like an employee accidentally tweeting x-rated material from the company account
- Negative Reviews - this is when an individual customer posts a negative review and you come across it (i.e. passive complaining about your company)
- Complaints - if a customer reaches out to complain directly via email, social media, phone, etc. it is more active than a negative review and falls into its own category
- Product/Service Issue - if you have a massive recall issue (i.e. something was wrong with your product of service for more than a few customers), it falls under this category
Your plan needs to address each of these potential problems. In some companies, you plan for management may be similar in all situations. In other companies, you might have different reaction procedures for each situation.
Avoiding Script, but Prepare Your Employees
One piece of advice I see others give small and medium-sized businesses about reputation management is the importance of scripts for the most important situations. I actually think this is a bad idea. If you have a large business, sometimes using scripts is inevitable, simply because you probably have entire teams of customer service reps across the country or even around the world.
But if your company is small enough, moving away from scripts can help your team respond in a way that is more "real," so customers trust you more.
Instead of scripts, hire people you really trust and give them the freedom to answer complains and negative reviews in authentic ways. Give them a few guidelines:
- What brand messages are your trying to express?
- What elements should be included in every message? (HINT: Apologies come first!)
- What perks are they allowed to offer? (examples: free products, refunds, discounts)
Also give employees examples of good and bad responses. Then, give them the freedom to deal with lower-level problems and, as they prove themselves, work on higher-level problems.
Implementing Your Plan
No matter how well-written your plan may be, it doesn't matter if employees don't follow it. First, employees need to be trained. Make sure that everyone, from new hires to employees who have been with you from the start, attend training and are on notice that the new rules are in effect immediately.
If your business is growing, it can be awkward to take some duties away from employees who have been wearing many hats, but it is important for everyone to follow procedures. Instate easy systems, and make sure that there are clear reprimands and repercussions for employees who refuse to use your new system.
Lastly, remember to follow through with the plan yourself. Set an example for your entire team as you implement the plan. Soon it will be second nature for everyone!
About the Author: Allison Boyer is a content marketer who blogs regularly about blogging, email, social media, and more at AllisonBoyer.com.