Brands are fragile: your reputation determines how fragileYour brand and mine are fragile things.

It seems that everything we do and say either strengthens or undermines our identity and reputation in the marketplace. And it does! Everything owners do and say and everything staff do and say. All of it matters!

This doesn’t mean we need to be perfect, to do everything perfectly. It does mean that when we mess up, we need to be prepared to own up and fix the problem. It also means that sometimes we need to own problems that are not of our making … maybe somebody else messed up or maybe the customer did. It’s not about assigning blame, it’s about taking care of the customer.

In the end, it means treating others, including customers, as we would like to be treated.

In fact, for those working in any area that provides direct care to customers, it’s helpful to take a hard look at how we like to be treated by other businesses.  It helps to look at what annoys us, what frustrates us, and to ask ourselves: “Are we falling into any of these traps in our business?”

When it comes to delivering great customer service, and building a reputation for it, it also means we’re not allowed to have bad days. Hard as it may sound, our customers expect us to be ‘on’ at all times. That doesn’t mean we won’t have bad days, it just means our customers won’t know it, they won’t suffer for it!

Customer service is more than delivering great products and services – although this is hugely important!. But – just important – it involves keeping our promises, meeting our deadlines, responding to telephone calls and emails promptly, being easy to deal with. And for those businesses who only deal with customers through the Internet, it means making our information easy to find, easy to understand and easy to use.

Small and large businesses alike can easily forget the impact these various areas of customer service can have on their reputation and thus their business. Our reputation is one of our most important assets, if not our most important asset. We can build an attractive brand in terms of our physical appearance (logo, graphics, marketing materials, physical store/office) but struggle to build our base of customers because of our reputation in the marketplace.

And if you happen to be a business that donates products or services to charity, don’t think that because you are donating them you should deliver less than your best! Everyone you deliver your products and services to, whether donated or full price, influences your reputation in the marketplace.

The reality is that if we don’t deliver the same excellent service, and products and services, to everyone we deal with – whether paying customers or charities we’ve donated goods and services to – our reputation will suffer. Because, in the minds of the recipient(s) of our good will, the quality of service we deliver to them is the quality of service we deliver across the board. So, if you deliver less than your best to those you donate services to, they will be less likely to mention your name to someone who might pay to do business with you. Or, at least less likely to refer you to someone without saying something like, “good guy, very generous, but he’s hard to connect with and takes forever to get the job done.” Not what you want anyone to be saying about you!

A reputation isn’t built overnight, it’s built over time. The value to this is that a solid reputation built over time on a foundation of kept promises, great products and services, and consistently delivered great customer service can survive the occasional issue (a missed deadline, mistake, etc.) For businesses that don’t build this type of reputation with their customers, missteps can just be one more nail in the coffin.