With all the hype surrounding social media, it’s easy to take your eye off the ball of what really drives your business. But as an entrepreneur or small business owner, your top two areas of focus should be your reputation and your brand. It takes a great deal of time to build a strong reputation and very little time to destroy it.
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Your brand is made up of more than your products and services. It includes the interaction you have with your customers and echoes your values. Your brand is a reflection of you.
Every experience your customers have becomes a memory with a story attached. Your brand is only as strong as the type of stories people tell. Customers tend to spread stories about two things: what really upsets us, or what makes us really happy.
This past summer I had to do some work on my house and hired several small businesses and service providers to do the job. On a scale of one to 10, none of them would receive a score higher than six, and several fell well below five. Would I recommend them to others? Not in good conscience. Are there stories based on these experiences that I pass along that are less than flattering? Yes.
So what did they do wrong? Here’s the bottom line: The experience of working with them was so unpleasant that it became memorable in a negative way. So in spite of the fact that they ultimately completed the work, the word-of-mouth buzz about my experience was not positive.
But we can learn from their mistakes.
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Here are my suggestions for actions you can take to help you maintain a strong brand and a stellar reputation when providing services to customers:
1. Manage expectations and eliminate negative surprises. If you are hired by a client and find yourself over budget, unable to deliver either on time or what is expected, tell the client as quickly as possible.
By managing expectations and keeping them in the loop, you involve them in the process and are able to ask for their input and make them partners in your success.
2. Tell the truth. Once you lose your credibility, customers will never trust you again. Delivering bad news is difficult, but if you are caught in a lie, you risk losing a lot more than if you told the truth.
3. Communicate regularly. Providing clients with regular progress reports affords you more opportunities for developing stronger relationships with them. Returning phone calls in a timely fashion is a give--especially if you have something negative to report. Remember, no news is always worse than bad news.
4. Under promise and over deliver. When pitching your services, make sure your proposals are realistic and the results are attainable. Failing to deliver on a promise because of poorly thought out and researched proposals will not help you build strong and lasting relationships with your customers.
5. Price your work fairly - for them and for you. Ensure that your pricing is in line with your experience and their budgets. This will eliminate feelings of resentment on all sides.
If you communicate and collaborate with integrity and honesty you will feel better about dealing with your customers and they will have a better experience working with you.
Mistakes happen, issues occur, and circumstances change. Unless you take ownership and step up to accept responsibility your brand will diminish in the eyes of those who work with you and your company. And you can bet on it - they will spread the word.
Mary Rosenbaum is a Master Certified Personal Branding Strategist and Career Coach with over 25 years experience as an entrepreneur and career professional and 10 years in business and finance. Mary is a dynamic and passionate coach whose talent is empowering entrepreneurs and careerists to perform at their peak by gaining clarity and more effectively communicating and leveraging their value proposition. For more insight into her work visit her website at http://yourcareerbydesign.com