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Basic Business Cents: Image Management

Today, anyone with a computer or smartphone can dramatically change a company's image for better or worse in a short period of time. Word-of-mouth has always been important, but now it can be an influencer instantaneously. Whether or not we have grown up with the web, we need to understand three areas of image management: incoming network traffic, outgoing traffic, and management action.

When customers are truly pleased with your products and services, they will share with their friends. Physical word-of-mouth will reach a few friends but friend lists on the web can be very long. On the other side of the coin, very upset customers will also want to share with their friends to prevent them from having the same bad experience. Social media allows unhappy customers to inflict lasting damage to a brand, almost overnight.

Employees will also share with friends their experiences with your company. If they are proud of their workplace, they will brag to their friends. If they have had bad experiences, they will let off steam to their friends. Again the web magnifies the number of people reached in a short time. Physical word-of-mouth usually gives people time to cool off before they reach many people but social media captures things said in the heat of the moment and they cannot be recalled. Unhappy employees can also inflict lasting damage.

Companies have to respond to increasing power of customers and employees. Both want to be heard. If they feel ignored, ill feelings amplify and continue. Defensive or combative responses also make it worse. This may be a natural impulse of loyal employees when receiving customer complaints, so they must be trained and reminded of the effect of their responses. Anyone in the company can respond electronically immediately, so they need to be trained and empowered to display understanding and provide effective solutions on the spot in a win-win manner.

You cannot muzzle either customers or employees remarks on the Internet, so make sure you:

• Model behavior expected of employees

• Meet and exceed customers expectations on each interaction

• Constantly improve work processes and systems to provide higher quality and performance of services and products

• Provide opportunities for job satisfaction and pride of workmanship for all employees

• Provide training in communications, tact, understanding of complaints, and continual improvement to all employees

• Find ways to stimulate, harness, and channel innovation

• Provide feedback on action taken on complaints

• Build on delighted points raised by customers and employees

• Listen

• A note to management, you cannot mandate or legislate customer and employee loyalty, trust, and respect; you have to earn it!