Online Reputation Management

You’ve probably already seen the following video (at the time of this post, it’s had 2,544,668 views on YouTube). Basically, it is one of the best protests against poor customer service that I have ever seen.

The creator of the video, Dave Carroll, wrote and recorded the song and video after an ill-fated United Airlines flight wherein rough handling of a $3,500 Taylor guitar caused it to be damaged. United refused to take responsibility for the loss, and as a last resort Dave Carroll recorded this song. It’s catchy, well-sung, well-produced, and extremely effective. I would think twice about flying United now – with or without a guitar.

Although this is an extreme example (most people who complain about your services or products aren’t as creative as Dave), it’s still a very good illustration of how difficult it can be to deal with online reputation issues. Once a bad opinion is out there, you can’t take it back.

The main thing that this teaches, for me, is that you can’t ignore upset customers. I don’t think you ever could (at least not long-term), but you certainly can’t now in the era of instant Twitter feeds, blogs, online reviews, and social networking sites. Your customers have a voice.

What should United Airlines have done? (Aside from taking care of the problem in the first place, of course!)

  1. Admit that something happened which made a customer unhappy. Don’t hope it will go away (it won’t). Respond to the issue, and try to become involved in the conversation.
  2. Admit that you were wrong…even if you weren’t. Before you get your feathers ruffled, remember the original customer service maxim: The Customer is Always Right. The damage may have been an accident, or unavoidable…but that customer was genuinely hurt. Acknowledge that, and apologise for them being put into that position.
  3. Get involved in the conversation – present your side of the story. If you really want win back public opinion in your favour, then tell your side of the story at least a creatively and charmingly as Dave Carroll has above.
  4. It’s easier to hate companies than it is to hate people. People can get quite nasty online where anonymity provides a shelter for bad language and behaviour – but it’s harder to be nasty to a “real person”. Appoint someone with a thick skin and a sense of humour to respond to negative comments. It will be rough at first, but over time people will come around.

That’s all. It’s not easy, and at times it isn’t fun – but it’s a necessary part of online reputation management. Join the conversation, and never, ever close stop talking to your customers.