Saturday, 7 August 2010

Name me a business that doesn’t want a great reputation

I can’t think of a single business that wouldn’t want a great reputation. But I bet we can all think of many businesses that don’t have one. Some that did and then lost it and never got it back. Others that responded quickly to a disaster, sorted the problem and enhanced their reputation.

I recently heard this great story about a major UK airline that had a contract with a large pharmaceutical company for their travel. Their event manager traveled the world on their behalf and her requirements were very specific, as she was a wheelchair user. But one day for various reasons the flying times didn’t suit and she took a flight on another UK airline.

When she boarded she was very upset as they took away her priceless wheelchair, but they promised to take great care of it and bring it back to her when the flight landed. Her worst fears were realised when it came back in pieces, crushed and useless. The company eventually found a rickety one to get her through customs and to her car.

She arrived home tearful and angry and poured out her story to her husband. He said that someone from the airline had phoned a couple of times and would call back. A few minutes later the phone went again and the voice said “Hi I’m Richard Branson and I’d really like to apologies for the damage to your wheelchair. We will happily replace it, choose which ever model you want”.

To cut a long story short, they biked over a selection of catalogues and she chose the one she’d always wanted. It was one from the States where wheelchairs have no speed restrictions – she’s something of a speed freak having drag raced in her youth – and it was delivered two weeks later. She was delighted.

Her chairman caught up with her some weeks later having heard the story, and was so impressed that he said Virgin should have the opportunity to pitch for their business.

Now I find that pretty impressive. It demonstrates really well a culture where the customer is put first and the employees have a process where they can act quickly to put things right and get action at the highest level, with great attention to detail.

If you want your business to have that kind of reputation then there are probably four areas that as a business owner you should focus on to grow your reputation and start the process of building a brand:

The product or service
The product or service must be relevant and appropriate for the consumer, and better than the competition. It must live up to its promise, delivering exactly what “it says on the tin”. The company should be constantly innovating, enhancing the product to keep ahead of the competition.

The environment
This is the arena that the business operates in. If it’s a shop, it’s how it looks, if the products are well lit, the clothes neatly folded, for example; how the customer can move around it easily and find exactly what they want. If the business is in food preparation, factors will include cleanliness, food storage, and health and safety. If it’s in car hire it might include supplying good maps, or Tom Toms, and that the vehicles are always spotlessly clean inside and out.

In many ways this can be the most important factor for the majority of business owners. It’s how your staff interact with your customers – they are the ones in direct contact, often face to face with them. If your employee has an off-day, is rude, thoughtless or unhelpful, everything the business will have done to build its reputation and brand will be negated. As far as the customer is concerned the person in front of them, or on the telephone, is the brand. When things go wrong, and they always will at some point as we’ve seen above, it’s how the business responds, says sorry and puts the problem right quickly. Businesses are more likely to retain those customers and they are more likely to tell their friends if they’ve had a good experience, especially when things initially went wrong.

The communications
All really successful businesses use design to create relevant, consistent, coordinated and eye catching communications with all their stakeholders – customers, staff, suppliers, investors and shareholders. For example: an identity that reflects and re-enforces what the brand stands for. Sales literature that is clear and easy to read and meets the users’ aspirations. Websites where it’s easy to find and buy what customers are looking for. This is the area the The Fusion Effect specialises in: visual branding, design and marketing communications.

Building a brand and maintaining it is a continuous process. It’s an attitude that should run through the business like the name in a stick of rock. Any business that works on these four areas will over time create a great reputation – and a great brand – retain customers, and ultimately make the business sustainable and more profitable.

For more information, contact Richard Tomlin

In my next blog – Has your business got a great back story?