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In the modern world, the reputation of a corporation can swiftly be called into question with a single complaint that blows up, exponentially, online. One tweet can multiple into a call to action for a company to re-examine their policies or risk extinction. While spin may be in, and many institutions have the PR savvy to deescalate a crisis of ethical confidence, few escape scandal entirely unscathed. 

Knowing when and how to respond to a situation can be tricky. What steps should a business take to ensure their reputation is not permanently tarnished by the careless words or actions of an individual within that organization?

The best solution is, as usual, in pre-emptive strategy. Any successful business is the result of passion. Safeguard the labor of your passion by creating a solid mission statement for your company. While it may seem frivolous to devote time developing a philosophical credo while scraping together funds for a start-up, doing so, may save valuable time and resources down the road.

Simply having an ethical mandate on paper is, of course, only lip service if employees are not educated as to its value in day-to-day operations. This means that the people who work with you must be in-tune with the values they see demonstrated towards themselves and others, at every organizational level. Basic training of company policy is, of course, a must.

Offering extended, optional, training in areas integral to your vision, be they general customer service goals, sexual harassment awareness or cultural sensitivity is a great way to foster healthy financial and emotional returns in a global economy. It also gives acute insight into which members of an organization are keen to participate in your overarching vision during periods of growth and promotion.

When faced with a public relations dilemma, you will have an explicit, internal vision, encompassing a code of ethics against which to levy public concerns. Complaints can be dealt  with, within a personal context. The actions taken in the wake of bad publicity will be authentic, and, as such, allow the consumer to respond rationally.  

Does a complaint against your organization violate the terms of its own constitution? If your response to a crisis is predetermined by longstanding values, the general public will be more inclined to forgive isolated and inevitable incidences of human error.

Big business can often absorb the shock of a public complaint by shuffling management or, otherwise, publically severing ties with employees who do not adhere to common values. Smaller businesses, however, often find themselves at the mercy of online reviews, in which dissatisfied consumers often have the privilege of the anonymous, venting session.

How mom-and-pop shops should respond to online reviews, is a case of knowing which battles to pick. Whether through years of subliminal stimulus or overt education, modern consumers are a psychologically savvy crowd. They can usually sense when a complaint is the result of a customer’s bad day and when a business has acted in grievous bad-faith.

Establishments with wholly angelic reputations on Yelp, will leave most consumers feeling suspect as to whether a clean-up job has been sanctioned. Hundreds of five-star reviews probably won’t convince anyone that you’ve never faltered in your service, and your business may even get its own unflattering, though hilarious, thread on Reddit.

When faced with complaints, it’s generally better to reach out to the aggrieved client, keeping in mind, you still have the potential to keep them as such.

Ask the irked consumer the specifics of their concerns. Show you are motivated to offer amelioration, if not in direct reimbursement, then in your capacity for acknowledging a customer service learning curve.

Be accountable within reason. Don’t pander to multiple complaints by the same individual. Chances are, they may have a generalized issue which, though potentially compounded by a unsatisfactory interaction with your establishment, has little to do with the competency of your overall service.  

If, however, a consumer has been genuinely flustered by an interaction with your team, you will be better off for reaching a compromise.

Often, it can be helpful to hire help in brand redemption. If you are taking over a business with a diminished, online profile, it can be beneficial to let the public know new ownership has a new vision. Again, this goes to starting with the basics of evaluating the motivation behind embarking on any new project. 

Simply stating, Under New Ownership may not be enough to quell the scepticism of a previously disappointed clientele. Be full out forceful in asserting your ownership over former concerns. Tell the public exactly why things will be different, when you are at the helm. Put your passion into your mission statement and make your mission for others be as transcendent as the hopes and dreams you, personally, hold.