Jealously guard your reputation

In today’s economy it’s important to look after your reputation. Mistrust of business has grown with broken promises, shaky advice, inflated prices and job losses. The idea of reputation is simple – it’s what people think of you. Can they trust you? Can they believe you and your products or services?

It all started out innocently enough. I visited the pay channel TV store to exchange an old decoder for a new one. The assistant said they couldn’t replace my old unit because it was reconditioned and out of guarantee. She told me I needed a new decoder and a new card. Three months later, I’m checking my bank statement and I see a double charge from the TV pay channel. I call them and find out they’ve charged me a monthly rental for my old card and my new card — for three months! They say it’s my fault and won’t pay a back a cent. I’m in for a long fight to get my money back.

How often do we get ripped off like this?

Our biggest fear in dealing with businesses is being ripped off.

But it happens so often you almost expect it.

Ripping off customers causes reputation damage that businesses can ill afford during an economic storm. But this is just one form of reputational damage that corrodes trust in businesses. 

What is business reputation? How important is it for small businesses? How do you build reputation and what can you do to prevent losing it?

A promise you keep with your customers

Reputation is based on the promise you keep with your customers and other people you interact within your sphere of influence: suppliers, the community, local authorities and so on. Small businesses gain a reputation for honesty and integrity when they have no hesitation over ethics.

In these economic times where there is pressure to shove flagging sales, drive increased productivity of staff and make profit figures, the danger exists of pushing too hard and cutting corners. Managers and employees want to reach their targets and make bonuses, sometimes at any cost.

To prevent loss of reputation it’s important that a business, whether retailing on the main street or online, does not lie to customers, badly treat employees, cover up mistakes and short-change customers.

How many businesses do this?

Small businesses can build their reputation by practicing truthfulness and honesty, taking a stand for what they believe is morally right (such as the environment), practicing what they preach and accepting the blame when they are wrong. Reputation can build trust, influence good behavior in others and creates high standards.

The value of reputation in the tough economy is priceless because it allows businesses to keep and gain more customers and to prosper even when other businesses are experiencing declining sales or, sadly, closing down. Word spreads quickly. Unscrupulous treatment of customers, employees and suppliers spreads like a raging mountain fire when the wind blows gale force.

Customers are tired of being kicked in the teeth. They are much more cautious about spending their money and certainly won’t part with hard-earned cash to make sub-par companies with rat-like reputations rich. As a business owner be alert to any potential reputational risks. Don’t wait for cracks to appear because by then it’s often too late to win back trust.

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