Don’t Just Manage Your Reputation … Advance It
By Tim Helenthal
President & COO
It’s a phrase that’s all the rage, particularly in today’s fast-paced environment of five-star or no-star polar-opposite online reviews. (How often do we see middle-ground, three-star reviews?)
Here’s the problem: The term suggests after-the-fact action. We often hear it come into play only when an angry customer registers a complaint. It’s frequently relegated to being an elaborate-sounding substitute for “placate” or “assuage.”
Aim to advance
I propose an improved slogan: “reputation advancement.” This connotes an evolutionary, forward-focused process in motion vs. a static respond-when-needed paradigm. It advises us to treat our encounters with dissatisfied customers not as a subset of crisis communications, but as opportunities to improve our organizations.
“Reputation advancement” invites us to advance our ways of addressing customer concerns and, in the process, advancing our corporate culture.
Are we, as an industry, throwing away learning opportunities by merely giving our dissatisfied customers an apology and a discount and then sending them on their way? Are we listening to their concerns and changing our modus operandi in response?
I consider myself a lifelong learner. For me, education never ends. What’s key to that process? Listening.
Bill Gates has said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Let’s move beyond the idea of simply being responsive. Let’s get active. Let’s learn.
Building a reputation on a big scale
At National Van Lines, we are proud of our exceptional record serving our clients: We’ve been named highest in customer satisfaction among van lines for 10 years running, according to the U.S. government’s General Services Administration.
But even after 90 years as a company, we know we’re still learning. You can imagine with the thousands of moves National Van Lines performs annually (particularly during the hectic summer season), some customers won’t be 100% happy with their relocation experience—much as we work 100% ensuring they are. It’s an unfortunate fact of the moving business.
Just as we like learning; we also turn the equation around. Before a potential customer decides we’re the one vs. our competitors, we educate him. This is where reputation advancement expands beyond the confines of National Van Lines and applies to the relocation industry as a whole.
We know our friendly competitors—some of whom have been in business for a quarter-century or more—are respectable organizations. We have no problem telling that to our potential customers. Though we’d prefer people pick us, we can’t be entirely unhappy should they choose a legitimate competitor. What we hate is losing someone to an unscrupulous or criminal organization pretending to do what we do.
You see, danger lurks within the long-distance moving industry. It’s a dark underworld preying on the uninformed, often holding people’s possessions hostage. We commonly call them “rogue movers.” They’re basically bandits masquerading as legitimate moving organizations. You’ll see reports about them from time to time.
A big blemish on our industry was bleached last year when government officials charged 12 individuals with defrauding more than 900 moving customers during a five-year period. Their bag of tricks included frequently changing company names and posting fake favorable online reviews, authorities said.
We inform people about the menace via blogs, frequent social-media posts and phone conversations with prospective clients.
Trade associations—whether for automakers or food manufacturers—typically are tasked with safeguarding an entire industry’s reputation. It would be easy leaving our industries’ reputations to only our associations. Instead, National Van Lines prefers playing an active role as a citizen of the entire moving industry (along with our equally ethical competitors). It’s an industry we’ve belonged to for nine decades and we’re responsible for protecting the entire neighborhood, not just our address.
We’re facing a reputation challenge right now with a company using a name extremely close to ours. It’s a tough fight, for sure. Not-so-stellar companies sometimes try piggybacking on the hard-earned success of others. We’ve received repeated negative Yelp and Google+ reviews by people who’ve mistaken us for this other organization.
Our reputation-advancement strategy includes courteously informing these individuals theirs is a case of mistaken identity. Despite their initial angriness expressed online, they frequently not only remove their negative online reviews but—once informed—apologize to National Van Lines for the error. Hmm. Who do you think they might approach the next time they move?
That’s a crucial difference between managing and advancing.
We also refer our customers to the major moving trade associations—the American Moving & Storage Association and the International Association of Movers—to get more information about their rights and to become better-educated consumers.
Both organizations are committed to helping educate the moving public and to promoting its members’ professional and ethical business practices. I’m proud to serve on AMSA’s board of directors and as IAM Chairman as part of my personal commitment to helping improve the moving industry.
At National Van Lines, we’re listening and learning … and advancing.
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