Many small business owners fail to understand the importance of proactively managing their company’s reputation. It only takes one unkind review or accusation to put a business at the center of controversy. Despite the old saying, there is such a thing as bad publicity. The immediacy of online reviews, coupled with the amplification provided by social networks, can cause a simple disagreement or misunderstanding to affect your bottom line. So, what can you do to help manage risks to your business’s reputation?

Make It Easy for Customers to Contact You

When someone has a bad experience at a business, they may not be bold enough to complain in person. Maybe they were overcharged or feel an employee was rude. You should make it convenient for customers to contact you after their visit. Make sure your business’s phone number, website URL, and email address are printed on receipts so that customers can provide comments. The goal is to solve issues before someone airs their complaints in a public forum, like Facebook. When you keep the conversation between yourself and the customer, it may result in a more productive discussion that leaves both of you happy.

Engage with Customers Online

Business owners need to be vigilant and stay on top of what customers are saying about their company online. Sites like Yelp or Google can automatically generate business listings from public databases, so customers can leave comments or complaints there without your knowledge. Social listening programs can bring many of these posts to your attention without an employee having to constantly monitor dozens of sites. It’s generally recommended that you respond to complaints on review sites. This serves multiple purposes. First, it shows that specific customer – and everyone watching – that you care about their concerns. Second, it gives you a chance to provide a positive outcome to their experience. When complaints are legitimate, you can extend an apology, refund, or freebies to quell their concerns. If the customer is being unreasonable, other readers will probably realize that, too.

Identify social media platforms where your customers are active, and use them to promote your products and your brand. Don’t just post about sales and promotions – try and give customers a look at the people behind your business. Do you operate a pizzeria? Post a video showing the chef’s athletic dough-tossing skills. Far from being promotional fluff, this type of content can grow customer loyalty and interest in your business. Your social media pages should give your fans a taste of your brand’s core story, what matters to your company, and your mission. Engaged customers can also be brand ambassadors, helping to blunt the effects of criticism from difficult people.

Establish a Company Communications Policy

Your employees are the public face of the business. When a staff member makes a mistake or says something offensive, the customer may assume they speak for the entire business. That’s unfair, and only you can correct this perception. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in such a case. Establish a written communications policy and require that employees read and sign the document.

Your policy document might remind employees that they’re representing the business and its brand during working hours, and that conversations about subjects such as politics, religion, or social issues could be inappropriate. Provide a list of contacts for staff members. If a senior manager isn’t on duty when a customer raises a concern, the employee will know who to call for assistance. You can also designate a person to handle media inquiries. As the business’s owner, you may be the best contact person. When it comes to managing potentially troublesome situations, you don’t want employees making important decisions on the fly. A company communications policy can help ensure that questions or complaints are addressed in a professional manner.

Watch Your Business Credit Scores and Ratings

Protecting your business’s reputation isn’t just about managing consumer opinions. Your suppliers and business partners will also form a perception of your business, and it’s important that they hold you in high regard. Your company’s credibility is a crucial part of your reputation, and may affect your ability to qualify for loans or win contracts. Business credit monitoring allows you to see changes to company credit scores and ratings. By keeping a watchful eye on your business credit file, you may be able to address inaccurate information before it does damage to your reputation.

Dun & Bradstreet has designed a variety of tools to help small business owners monitor their company’s credit scores and ratings. Our free CreditSignal®* subscription can alert you to changes in your D&B® business scores and ratings. If you need assistance establishing or impacting your D&B business credit scores and ratings, consider Credibility Concierge. You’ll be assigned a credit concierge with experience in your industry.

Proactively managing your business’s reputation can prevent embarrassing, costly gaffes. The process is more complicated than ever before, but the simple steps we’ve highlighted should help you prepare to tackle the challenges ahead.

Photo Credit: Vladimir13Mikhaylov, Twenty20