If someone has just had a very bad experience at – say – your hotel, how would you handle it?

  • Try your utmost to make that person happy?
  • Tell that person to “go find another hotel”?

This just happened to my family members. And when I tried to call the hotel to get to the bottom of it, I was called “inappropriate,” followed by other accusatory name calling… “Nasty” came up at least four times, but by the first one, my head was already spinning with, “Oh… My… gawd… What kind of person is on the other end of the phone?”

I’ll cut him some slack here, in that I was phone-shuffled to a sales person, because I asked for someone in PR or management. He had either missed the classes on interpersonal relationships and relational sales (which offers interpersonal skills), or he’s really of the ilk for accusing others of what he doesn’t like in his own personality… He just couldn’t let his own ego, in order to keep a customer…

He completely forgot his job, thinking this wasn’t his can of worms. Sales, after all, is the transference of enthusiasm, but his reactions at every turn was the opposite of enthusiasm. It was arrogantly rude, and he gave me fodder for a great Reputation Management PR do’s and don’t story. I had hoped for a better story. I called to get it “settled.” I wanted to believe in this place, but it spiraled downward even deeper.

And, he got me thinking about what kind of place is this… My kids had problems, now I’m having problems. This is the Hampton Inn in Windsor, where I’ve been sending people since it was built… a few years ago. That’s not going to happen ever again, of course… The Hampton Inn is a member of the Hilton Family, and I’ve long used this Hotel around the US. Never, I mean never, have I met “mean,” until this past weekend.

It’s only fair to say at the beginning of this story that usually, when I have a problem, I’ll begin the conversation with, “I’m really upset right now, but my problem isn’t with you, it’s with this situation.” However, I’m really stretched right now with several real crises I’ve had to handle lately, so I didn’t begin the conversation below. This caused the person on the other end of the line to defend himself… He owned it, and he shouldn’t have, instead of removing himself, so he could provide good customer service.

Reputation Management Dos and Don’ts

A progressive and caring company, which serves the public, should know how to handle both happy and upset customers. It’s just part of  great customer service. If employees are indifferent, this isn’t going to reflect well on your facility.

DOs for Reputation Management

  • Know that before a crisis arises, everyone in your company must understand the importance of your company’s reputation.
    • People have choices.
    • People have websites like “Yelp,” where a bad review can instantly cost you future business.
  • Remember that when a crisis happens, the first step is to do everything you can to prevent a problem from becoming a reputational crisis.
  • Provide an authentic and contemporary experience for guests worldwide, especially if you state on your website that this is your credo.
    • Even if you don’t state that, why would that not be your goal?
  • Listen when someone is calling with a complaint, and listen carefully.
    • That person is calling, because she or he is looking for a resolution, not a revolution.
    • To become defensive instead of empathetic means you’ve lost a customer, with rippling effects.
  • Use all customer feedback for early warning signals to reputational problems.
    • If you’re not the right person to handle the crisis, ask the person to wait while you find the right person.
    • The person is looking for someone to listen and resolve the situation.
    • If it’s a phone call, get a name and number, and reassure the person that someone will be getting back shortly, if no one is available.
  • Prevent minor problems from becoming reputational crises.
    • Make sure your staff communicates and responds quickly and appropriately.
    • Stay calm.
  • Maintain a good reputation during the crisis.
    • Don’t take it personally.
    • All you’ve really got in the business world, at the end of the day, is your reputation.
    • Don’t tarnish it by over reacting.

Don’ts for Reputation Management

  • Never wait for a crisis to try your hand at it.
    • Be prepared… Reacting with your personal ego can cause your company more harm than good.
    • People have websites like “yelp,” where a bad review can instantly cost you future business.
  • Remember that when a crisis happens, the last thing you want is for it to escalate into more than what it was.
    • Never forget your company’s credo, for what is stated.
    • Think of your internalized principles as an umbrella that will carry you through the storms.
  • A habit is an internalized principle, so practice it each day, and you’ll come out with a win instead of a loss.
    • Never stop listening when someone is calling with a complaint.
    • It’s not your job to talk until the person has stopped telling you about the bad experience.
    • And remember, perception is reality. You can easily change that reality with just a modicum of genuine caring.
  • Don’t discard customer feedback as trivial.
    • It’s definitely an early warning signal for reputational problems.
  • Never resort to name calling.
    • It demonstrates a lack of interpersonal relationship skills and that you need some help.
    • It will not resolve anything and makes your company even less desirable. Each tiny chip away from your reputation will eventually cause that facility’s crumbling.

Interestingly, I have witnesses for my end of the conversation, with one person actually being a practicing behavioral psychologist. She said the following to me when I said,

“I just hung up on the guy. He said to me, ‘I have some things I want to say, before I end this conversation.'”

That was code for, “I’m going to hang up on you, lady.”

When he said “nasty” for at least three times in his tirade, I finally said, “Nasty?” Because I was listening to him to see where he was going to go… Which was all accusatory. (I had told him that he was giving me a great story to write.) The last nasty just put me over the edge.  I’m not into S&M, so I just put the receiver down.

My friend to me:

“Jo, you did everything you should have. You never raised your voice, you only stated facts, you didn’t curse, and you got off the phone on his last “nasty” comment to you.

Just another day in the life of a wine industry publicist.