Hi there! A new article, featured in RiskSA magazine Feb 2007. It has great relevance in today's unregulated and uncontrollable Citizen Media environment. A plain text version is alongside in case you prefer it.
Building and breaking corporate image
You may be a one-person business or a multinational. Regardless, whether by design or default, you and your business will have an ‘image’. And that image is something built largely via perception. Sometimes through ‘the experience’ and often through word of mouth.
Think of it: You approach an organization for product, service or a position. You have a concept of what that organization’s like. You can give a potted-pen description of the kind of people you think are employed there and speculate on how the management behave. And just where did that information or those impressions come from? Typically from communication fragments that have had an impact on your senses. You’ve noticed their advertising in the media. You’ve seen or heard their CEO talking on TV or radio. And then perhaps read an article showcasing their AIDS orphanage corporate social investment initiative. All of this creates an impression or image - but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization is genuinely anything like it is portrayed.
The best way to evaluate the sustainable (as opposed to short-term, or superficial) image of an organization is through direct contact or an experience. What legendary former Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) chief executive Jan Carlzon, referred to as ‘a moment of truth’.
In today’s world – where the majority of people are very young – there are greater than ever risks to the reputation of your business. Authoritative trends analysis reveals that a large number of young people see work as a necessary evil at worst, or a nuisance at best. The job ranks second to their social schedule. It’s what they do to earn money so they can buy ‘stuff’. Stuff being DVDs, iPods, cosmetics, booze, drugs and clothes. So if that’s their ingoing attitude to a job, what are the implications and ramifications for the corporate image of your organization? If they don’t care about reputation and see their job more as an irritating stepping-stone to another level in life, can we expect great service, commitment, follow-through, good customer relationships and the like? Not likely. This represents the single biggest area of challenge for business owners and operators today. That is: Getting people around you to care the way you do, about the business.
Why, I don’t know, but there’s also an evident (and concerning) lack of good manners in a vast number of business people today. I came from a financially poor home with seriously dysfunctional parents, yet I somehow developed a sense of consideration for the needs of others, along with good manners. So it’s puzzling that such a broad cross-section of young people in particular, along with a chunk of the business population in general, are plain ill-mannered. Why?
As an example, I approached a car hire desk at Durban airport a few days before writing this article. There were two people behind the counter – both eating and drinking. The chap I addressed didn’t stop chewing on his hamburger as he replied curtly to my query - food still in his mouth! He’s no doubt studied George W. Bush’s 2006 St. Petersburg G8 Summit luncheon habits.
I’m not expecting an attitude of indentured servitude from anyone, but I'm appalled that business owners or operators consistently let loose on the public and their potential or actual clients, people who have poor manners, no conflict resolution ability and low social skills development. Thought: Have you trained your people in these skills? Or do they just make it up as they go along?
A major image determinant in your business is going to be a) How your phones get answered and b) How your staffers address callers or clients on those phones, by e-mail, or in person. How they handle queries or problems. Because that’s the actual contact, ‘experiential’ stuff.
If I cast my mind back over 2006, I had some awesomely dreadful dis-service experiences. Just go look at my Blog archives (http://clivesimpkins.blogs.com) to get a sense of how a sample of just one (me!), was subjected to mind-numbingly bad client service on so many occasions. If it was happening to me, it was happening to many others. I guess the main difference is that I don’t let it go. I escalate it to the highest level in an organization - with one simple intention - saving others from the same dreadful experience.
An associate of mine thinks organizations
aren’t interested in feedback. That you’ll be seen as a Mother Grundy and
they’ll ‘yes’ you to death and then do nothing. However, my consistent finding is that CEOs are
horrified at what’s happened and they take swift action. Not just because I
write about it but because I’m often the first person to draw it to their
attention. Most people simply put up with bad service or treatment, or ‘vote
with their feet’.
I vote with my phone, computer keyboard and my tongue! In many cases, what starts out as a dreadful service experience turns into a positive relationship. Because I give the feedback and owners or managers respond appropriately and staffers (quite often) get sent for training or re-training. But if I think, ‘sod off’ and go elsewhere, little if anything might change. So, upon reflection and analysis - is your business truly ready on the client or customer image front?