(This is a contributed post)
The past few months have proven a huge ordeal for small businesses. They’ve had to endure tremendous losses as well as making sweeping operational changes to enable and empower their employees while they work remotely. Many small business owners continue to fear for their livelihoods. Especially at a time when consumer confidence has plummeted and prospective customers are more fickle than ever. Now, more than ever, your business’ reputation is of paramount importance. It’s your reputation that will allow you to engage new customers while assuring those already loyal to you that their trust has been duly earned. It’s your reputation that will allow you to consolidate your share in the market and grow your business sustainably against the odds.
But that means that you have to coincidentally deliver operational excellence. It means that you have to take a long and unremitting look at your operations and identify any weak links that have the potential to undermine your reputation in the eyes of repeat customers and new prospects alike.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the things that have the potential to undermine your small business’ reputation if left unchecked. Address these as quickly and as comprehensively as possible, and you can enjoy long-lasting and satisfying relationships with the customers that will help you to grow your business.
The wrong employees
It goes without saying that nobody ever tries to recruit the wrong people. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly possible for outstanding interview candidates to make for less than stellar employees. When you handle your own recruitment, there’s a surprisingly large propensity for error. Business owners tend to go with their gut to a certain extent when it comes to hiring and firing. They may not necessarily have firm assessment criteria for candidates and as such, each member of the interview panel may be looking for something slightly different. As such, candidates may make a great impression at the interview only to underperform when they start work.
This is one of many reasons why outsourcing your labour hire may be advantageous for your business. It allows you to have a more formalised recruitment process that is more objective and more conducive to quality hires. What’s more, it can also bring a range of other benefits including shorter time-to-hire, reduced costs, less operational disruption and scalability in line with your growth. No more taking time out from operations to oversee the recruitment process, and no more grinding to a halt when it’s time to train and onboard a new employee.
Speaking of onboarding, your onboarding process can also allow you to ensure that a terrific candidate makes for an equally excellent employee. It should not only imbue them with the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to do their job, it should help them to feel better integrated into the fabric of your team. Friendship groups between employees are extremely important for employee engagement. Which brings us to…
A lack of motivation and engagement in the workforce
Speaking of engagement, your customers can sense a mile away when your employees aren’t engaged in their work. Even if they’re doing everything right operationally, bored and disinterested employees will stand out like a sore thumb and undermine an otherwise perfectly pleasant interaction with your brand. And if you assume that nobody within your workforce struggles with engagement, you may be shocked by the statistics.
In fact, it’s estimated that around 85% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work. Fortunately, there are lots of ways in which you can help your employees to feel more engaged in their work. Some ideas to improve employee engagement might include;
Employees feel more engaged when they know that their employers value them as people, rather than valuing the discrete function they fulfil for the business. If you help them to feel valued and give them a path to fulfil their career goals under your roof, you’ll enjoy a massively reduced voluntary turnover rate.
And that means reduced costs, less disruption to operations and consistently excellent customer service from team members that they know, like, and trust.
An unprofessional looking website
When you first started out, you knew you needed a website. But you were also keen to avoid excessive overheads. As such, you may well have chosen a web designer on the basis of affordability rather than experience and quality. But in an age where 98% of customers will get their first exposure to your brand through your website, it’s imperative that it makes all the right first impressions.
And if it was designed 5 years ago by a freelancer of Fiverr, it may not make the kind of first impression that’s conducive to enthusiastic and repeat custom. In fact, your website design may lead to high bounce rates even if your actual digital marketing campaigns are impeccably done. 94% of web users have cited poor website design as the reason why they don’t trust a brand. It may be past time to give your website a much-needed overhaul, both in terms of aesthetics and user experience (UX). If your website is difficult or frustrating to navigate, this can increase bounce rates too and make your website feel amateurish.
A lack of social proof
You can run the slickest, most stylish digital market campaign ever. But today’s savvy consumers will always take everything you say about yourself, your brand and your products with a pinch of salt. Consumers are used to being marketed to. They rarely take the claims that brands make seriously. Which is why social proof is such an important commodity for small businesses trying to improve their reputations with a fickle consumer base.
Make sure that you incentivise your customers to leave favourable reviews for you on Google, Trust Pilot and other relevant places online. You may be astonished by how readily your customers will leave glowing praise for a potential 20% discount on their next purchase. You should also ensure that your glowing customer testimonials are prominently featured on your website’s homepage as well as any landing pages that will direct prospects to your website. If consumers don’t see robust social proof when they perform an online search for your brand name, they may move straight on to one of your competitors.
Unresolved complaints on social media
Your customers and prospects need to be able to engage with you. And they need to do so using a platform that is relevant, accessible and convenient for them. Not every customer will have the patience to endure automated phone services or chatbots. Some may not even use email. However, target them on the right social platforms and they’ll have a much more meaningful relationship with your brand. The great thing about having a robust social media presence is that consumers don’t necessarily feel like they’re engaging with a brand. They feel like they’re engaging with actual human beings who value them.
However, you shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that all of your interactions on social media will be positive. Inevitably, some customers will choose to voice their grievances with you on social channels. And with legions of prospects watching, you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand. The right approach to customer complaints on social media can help you spin a negative into a positive, repairing a customer relationship while potentially creating new ones.
Respond to the complaint in a timely manner, and apologise for any grievances that they may hold. If they’re being unreasonable, at least spectators will be able to see it for themselves. Make every possible attempt to resolve the matter, and give the offended party a personalised response. Copied and pasted sentiments aren’t going to cut it here! Try to move the conversation offline as quickly as possible. Nobody needs to see how you and the customer resolve the matter. They just need to see that you’ve taken fast and decisive action and that you take customer complaints seriously.
The weak links in your supply chain
Even in these economically uncertain times, consumers aren’t simply motivated by cost. They want to do business with companies that care about more than turning a profit. Many consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z consumers, want to do business with companies that put ethics and sustainability at the forefront of their operations. And they’re prepared to pay more for the privilege. That said, any weak ethical links in your supply chain can undermine any claims you make in your marketing copy. You need to not only make sure that your own operations are unimpeachable, but do your due diligence to ensure that you’re not saddled with an ethically dubious supplier.