What to Do When You Destroy Your Brand

Reputation Staff Writer

Disaster happens. Sometimes it strikes in one calamitous moment, like when United Airlines forcibly dragged a passenger off a flight. Sometimes it’s the same nightmare repeating itself over and over, like when Samsung phones were exploding or when KFC ran out of chicken.

And then there’s the long, drawn out disaster, such as what Domino’s Pizza experienced, turning them into the laughing stock of the pizza business for years.

How do companies pick up and dust off their reputations when disaster strikes? How can they prevent a bad situation from getting out of control? How do they make sure people know the real story and not the rumors and falsehoods that can so easily spread like wildfire? And how do they repair the damage and reclaim their reputations?

Reputations are earned over time and need to be constantly maintained. With deliberate, consistent efforts to deliver the best product or service, and customer feedback channels that are always open, companies build trust and earn good reputations.

By putting the following best-practices for reputation management into high gear and addressing a crisis head on, you can control the extent of the damage.

Be Accountable

Honesty is always the best policy. Gone (largely) are the days when companies could cover up incidents or pretend they didn’t happen. Social media has seen to that. Acknowledge the problem and announce your plan to take corrective action.

Dominos Pizza, back in 2010, took this to an extreme, when they launched an entire reinvention campaign that started by self-exposing the worst in them. In short, they admitted that their pizza was terrible! Fast forward several years, and Dominos is the #2 pizza chain in the world, and stock prices have gone from a dismal $8.76 per share to highs in the mid $250 per share.

In striking contrast is United Airlines’ response to the now-famous incident in 2017, when a passenger was dragged through and forcibly removed from the plane, bloodied and protesting —  all because he refused to give up his paid seat on the overbooked flight. Captured on video and posted on social media, the incident was headline news around the world in a matter of minutes. And how did United respond? In a throwback to the “sweep it under the rug and pretend nobody saw it” days, United shocked the world by apologizing for the overbooking situation, and for “having to re-accommodate” the passenger.

While United eventually released statements assuming responsibility for incident – and taking action to ensure it never happens again — most experts agree that the damage to the airline’s reputation caused by its hestation to be accountable will take a very long time to repair. Regaining customer trust and loyalty will require evidence of a major culture overhaul, and that can’t happen overnight.

Join the Conversation – Immediately

Monitor surges in traffic and negative conversations that indicate a potential crisis is brewing – and adjust your response plan based on that information. And remember, these days people don’t take the time to research and authenticate a juicy story. Instead, they share, re-post, retweet, like, vote up and so on. The quicker you can join the conversation and let your customers know they’ve been heard, the more likely you’ll prevent a viral frenzy.

Take, for example, when KFC had to close over 900 stores in the UK and Ireland for a whole week because of delivery problems, its legions of emotional, chicken-loving customers complained loudly on social media. KFC’s response? An honest, very clever explanation of what happened, an acknowledgement that they had let their customers down, a promise to re-open as soon as possible, and a thank you for being loyal. The crisis happened. The damage was mitigated. The relationship with customers was even stronger.

Show Them the New You

Perhaps the most valuable of all the online reputation management benefits is the ability to take customer feedback and use it to improve operations as well as customer experience.

In 2016, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 smartphones were exploding. Videos of the phones bursting into flames were all over the web, and Samsung had to recall 2.5 million Note 7s only a few months after they sold — and halt production. Sales plummeted, the memes were everywhere, and Samsung knew it had to take action.

This was not a case of corporate scandal or miscommunication. This was dangerous, life threatening stuff – and the response had to be comprehensive and completely transparent. Samsung had to discover what the problem was and take accountability  — which they did. And, then they had to go about fixing it — which they did. Taking these two important steps got them back to the starting line; but they weren’t enough to get them back in the race.

To reassure customers that they would never again have a phone blow up on them, Samsung had to make major changes to their operations and their culture — and had to let the world know about them. The company amped up its social media listening and monitored customer sentiment to ensure that it was in-step at all times with its ultra-competitive market. Samsung also took the opportunity to overhaul the internal culture, and shared its plans and progress along the way.

The results? One year after their phones were exploding, Samsung had, with transparency, re-established itself not just as leaders in the smartphone industry, but as a company its customers and employees could trust.

A Good Reputation Helps You Stay On Your Toes

Despite best efforts, however, disaster can still strike. But handling a crisis situation is much easier if you’re already well-versed in the ins and outs of reputation management. With an ORM program in place, you’ve got tools at your fingertips to monitor events as they’re unfolding in real-time, enabling you to take immediate action.

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