Are you exposed on the basics of reputation?

Imagine this: I’m sitting in a swanky car show room. I’m here because I’m keen on buying a new vehicle. It’s fair to say things haven’t gone to plan.

First, they insisted I come at midday to book a test drive of the car. I race into the dealership right on time (remember, I’m keen on buying) but no one is remotely interested in me. Not a second glance. Fifteen minutes later and I’m still waiting for somebody to come out for my 12 o’clock appointment. I chase down a reluctant salesperson and let them know I’m here for my test drive.

Eventually, after much fluffing around on their part, I test-drive the car and am even keener to buy it. Then the frustration really ramps up. I now need to get my current car checked over by their evaluator to get a trade-in price. It seems to take forever. Time is ticking closer to my next appointment. I let the sales guy know I need to move along, so if I could just retrieve my current car I’d be happy to do the rest of the negotiating by phone. Their staff respond by slowing their pace to half speed.

After more delay, Sales Guy comes back to me with a trade-in price for the car. Presumably he’s embarrassed by how low it is, so he mutters it under his breath and I have to ask him to repeat it several times just so I can hear it. Awkward all round. I decide I’ll think about it, thanks. I reiterate that I’m still waiting to get my car keys back, and I’m now running late for another appointment.

Here comes the crowning moment. They don’t seem to want to return my keys to me. At first I’m puzzled, then I work out they have actually lost the keys. Somehow, between driving my car a few metres from the street to the driveway of their showroom, the keys have gone missing.

Blood pressure on the rise, I walk from inside the showroom to the doorway and here’s Sales Guy and a couple of others searching through the pot plants in the garden near where my car is parked. It would have been hilarious if by now I wasn’t ready to punch someone. Conversations get heated. Finally, the keys turn up on someone’s desk.

I’m out of there - grumpy, running late, and no new car purchase. Sales Guy cheerfully calls out to my retreating back, “I’ll give you a call later!” I think, “don’t bother”.  As it turns out, he doesn’t. It’s pretty clear he’s not going to get a sale from me.

This car dealership prides itself on – you guessed it – customer service. But customer service wasn’t in the same hemisphere as the treatment I got that day. And this is no isolated incident. I’m sure you have your own examples of businesses saying one thing and doing something totally different. Working across many different types of organisations, I see this all the time.

Our reputation is built on three pillars. What we say about ourselves – pillar number one – is extremely important but we have to back it up with our actions. Pillar number two is how others directly experience us, what it’s like for clients when they come into contact with us and use our services. If those two pillars are out of alignment, your reputation is going to be shaky indeed. That then influences pillar three, which is what others say to others about us – on social media, over the back fence, in blogs like this, and through many other means.

Many businesses focus on number one and number three. They’re pretty good at telling everyone how great they are and doing their own brag-posts on social media.

But somehow they’ve forgotten step 2 of the equation; the actual delivery of the service. We need to make people feel so special and amazing when they encounter us, they’re going to want to tell everyone about it in a positive way.

There’s nothing new about this. It’s how businesses have operated for centuries. The savvy ones have reaped rewards from positive word of mouth. But of course these days that third pillar – what others say to others – has grown disproportionately huge because our clients have so much power in terms of the comments they can make about us.

Do you reckon I went to an opposition car dealership to get another quote? You bet I did! I couldn’t get out of that first business fast enough. Even if the car had been a great price I would not have wanted to buy it from that organisation.

Simple story, really. They said they were great at customer service. What they did didn’t match their words. As a result, my comments about them are not positive.

What’s it like for your clients when they interact with you? Do they go away feeling fabulous or fuming? If you don’t know, it’s time to find out. Consistency across the three pillars is the key to your organisation having a great reputation. 

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Neryl East

Neryl East is a reputation, communication and media expert who shows businesses and organisations how to stand out - for the right reasons! EDUCATION: PhD in Journalism, University of Wollongong Master of Arts, University of Wollongong Certificate IV Training and Assessment (TAFE NSW) International Certificate of Public Participation (IAP2) EMPLOYMENT HISTORY: Director - Neryl East Communications Pty Limited Manager Communications and Public Relations - Wollongong City Council Manager Media and Communications - Shellharbour City Council Head of Communications and Marketing - Australian War Memorial Lecturer and tutor - University of Wollongong Lecturer - APM College of Business and Communication Manager External Relations - University of Western Sydney Freelance journalist - The Australian, ABC, Southern Cross Television, Prime Television News Director - WIN Television, Western NSW Journalist/producer/presenter - WIN Television, Wollongong Journalist/producer - Radio 2CH INTERESTS: Netball umpiring, theatre, travel