When I was in Afghanistan, we were stationed at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Warrior. Today it is mainly a Polish Base, but in 2007, that was home to world's greatest marketing expert. While staying at Warrior, our duties were broken into thirds, which means at any point of deployment, we did one of the following:
- Pull tower guard to protect the Base against a raid
- Conduct local patrols to provide humanitarian aid, or eliminate conflicting interests
- Pull QRF (Quick Reaction Force) to teams on patrol should they be attacked
As you can see, two-thirds of our efforts were purely defensive. This is naturally because we were in an environment where we were frequently attacked. However, your business probably isn't attacked as frequently as an American in an openly hostile foreign territory.
Never-the-less, nearly every business will at some time or another be subject to some form of public or private scrutiny whether it is your company's fault or not. Par for the course, homey!
Proactive Reputation Management for Small Business
1- Tower Guard for Business: Thicker sandbags make stronger towers
Just like we dug up sand and made, and positioned, sandbags to minimize damage from small arm and indirect fire, you too need to ensure you're protecting your business. Ensure you have generated significant online content about your own business on, not only your own website, but external sites as well such as Blogspot, eHow, Hubpages, Squidoo, eZine Articles, etc. This way if any external news story or adversarial blog is authoring negative content about your business, they'll have a mountain of competition in search engines to try to rank above.
Also, ensure you are inviting happily satisfied customers to write positive testimonials about your business on as many online directories as possible. The more protons you have, the less charge an electron can generate, if you know your high school chemistry.
2- Pull QRF: Higher towers make better informed guards
Google Alerts. Have you heard of it? Basically Google allows you to submit certain keywords to their search engine, and whenever someone or something writes a story with that keyword, Google will notify you via email. The bottom line is that you need to submit your name, your business names and all other proprietary materials to Google Alerts so you can be sure you'll see any enemy as they approach your proprietary interests online.
3- Conduct Patrols: When the community loves you, the enemy will be less successful
Customer service is not just a department, a PR catchphrase, a complaint box or even a title. Customer service begins with the color of your teeth, and ends where the customer wants it to. Customer service is a state of mind, and it is your responsibility to win the hearts and minds of your target audience. When you patrol, you are essentially doing the day-to-day business of that of which makes you money. However, be prepared.
An ambush is a surprise attack from a concealed position onto a moving or temporarily halted objective. I know because I taught it at West Point in the summer of 2006. This is exactly how your business will be attacked. You will be off doing what you love, and BAM:
- An employee curses out a customer
- A screw on that deck you made comes loose and Mrs. Finklestein has a cut foot and a nasty temper
- The invitations you shipped never arrived, and now the client wants $16,000 for the money wasted on their Grand Opening
Long story short, an ambush is scary; however, do the following and you'll be fine:
- Focus all of your attention on the ambush. Make the customer feel respected and heard.
- Call for backup! Sometimes if the customer is hating you, bringing another employee to the scene may give them someone to hate you with thus minimizing the chances they will hate your business overall, and attack it online. NEVER gang up on a customer. Instead, have the employee play devil's advocate.
- Break contact. Sometimes the customer just can't be helped. The best thing you can do in that situation is to break contact with the customer in the friendliest manner possible. So many times I see business owners continually dealing with abuse from the same customers just because they feel this is good customer service. No it's not, it's destructive and you don't need that type of sale. Sometimes it's just better to say goodbye and move on. In other words, suck it up and give them a cash refund, NOT a gift certificate. Catch my drift?
Every castle needs walls and every business needs proactive reputation management. Do what I tell you and you'll be fine.
Don't compete — DOMINATE.
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Matt Steffen was Listed by Forbes as the #1 Marketing Consultant Who Avoids the B.S.