Beyond the sausage factory: getting to grips with reputation capital

Have you ever had an experience with a business or organisation that’s so far removed from what they claim to be that it totally turns you off them?

I once had dealings with an organisation that rather self-righteously proclaimed the highest ideals of community engagement, complete with lofty statements about their principles. In reality, it was one of the most disengaging experiences I’ve ever had, and I came away feeling upset and disillusioned. Have I told other many people about my brush with this entity? Of course!

Most organisations – be they government agencies, businesses or not-for-profits – now get that they need to communicate and market themselves in a coordinated and proactive way. But for many, that’s where their reputation management stops. They think that if they pump out positive messages, their customers and clients will absorb the information and all will be well.

Somehow along the way they forget that people’s direct experience will play a huge part in the forming of that reputation. If the experience isn’t great, all the marketing in the world won’t fix it. And even worse, if the experience is completely at odds with what the organisation says about itself, the customer will never forgive and forget. The organisation has committed a cardinal sin: its behaviour has not matched the essence of it brand. Its “business body language” is out of whack.

What you say + how people directly experience you + what they then say to others= your reputation. So, if your organisation or business has a disconnect between those responsible for communications and marketing, and whoever is in charge of customer experience, you may well have a reputational problem.

One government agency recently wanted to bridge this gap by giving its communications staff more of a focus on customer experience. I did an exercise where they chose a picture of a person cut out from a magazine, gave them a name and wrote a whole “back story” about that person’s life and why they’d be interacting with the agency. They then shared those stories, and analysed how their own behaviour might be different if they thought that “their” customer was always there, checking out their work. I encouraged them to continue to think this way for the next month, and see if it made a difference to their appreciation of the customer experience. And it did!

So often, we’re focused on just getting through our busy day, the meetings in our calendar and the task list that keeps growing. If we think about our reputation, it’s likely to be task-driven; making sure we’re getting messages out through social media, launching new products or services, meeting various deadlines. It’s like churning sausages out of a factory. We need to think beyond those outputs to the real outcomesof what we do; how do our customers or clients really experience us, and what difference are we making in their lives?

Getting to grips with those outcomes is where true reputation starts to build. And will those people tell others about their great experience? Absolutely.