A bad reputation can be difficult to endure. Maybe a particular incident soured previously positive interactions with customers, or maybe a sensitive internal memo was leaked online. Or, maybe you’re considering buying a business with a bad reputation, and you’re wondering what it takes to repair it. It’s possible to repair a bad business reputation, but it requires a strong plan and strong actions.
How to Repair a Bad Business Reputation
Repairing a bad business reputation requires two big steps: fixing the problem and showing success. Fixing the problem is essential to repair your business reputation first, since showcasing future successes will be hollow and ineffectual if the initial problem or problems still exist. Within each of these larger steps, planning and taking smaller steps will make it easier to successfully execute each one.
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Whether you’re working to repair a bad business reputation for your own business, or you’re considering buying a business with some reputational damage, it’s important to first assess the full scope of the problem. Often, it may be obvious what caused a business’s bad reputation, but the full effects of that problem—including the perception and resulting behavior changes of the public, customers, employees, and more—might not be immediately clear.
When assessing the business, it’s important to use actual proof rather than guessing or inferring what the problem or problems are. Distribute customer surveys, asking for feedback, looking at reviews, reviewing social media conversations, assessing internal processes, or talking to employees can all provide information about what went wrong and how.
Once you’ve assessed the scope of the problem, you can better determine who can fix these problems, and what will be needed to do so. In some cases, addressing the problem might require everyone in the company. In other cases, the problem might be confined to a few departments. Talking to your team and hearing their position, concerns, and ideas will clarify a way forward, and further illuminate the problem, solutions, and challenges.
Fix the Problem
In order to truly repair a bad business reputation, you need to show that these problems won’t repeat themselves. That means fixing the problem, or actively starting a solution. Without taking this step, the following steps will be more difficult to implement, and any apologies or changes will be highly disingenuous.
Fixing a problem is easy to say, but often much harder to actually do. If product defects, for example, frustrated customers and caused existing customers to leave, the product must be pulled or fixed before the business’s reputation can be repaired. These fixes won’t happen overnight. It’s important to engage your teams, address what went wrong, and map out the steps to a solution. With these steps in place, you’ll be able to address your customers and move forward honestly and confidently.
Two of the best ways to repair a bad business reputation is to fix the problem and make amends with your customers, or anyone else affected by the problem. Making a mistake, selling a bad product, or committing another error doesn’t always mean your reputation is doomed. Customers and the public are willing to forgive businesses in many circumstances, but only if the apology is sincere and the damage will be rectified. Many businesses try to repair a bad reputation with an insincere apology, or one that isn’t backed by actual action or changes. These types of apologies can make matters worse.
Sincerely apologizing for a mistake isn’t easy. It requires one to recognize their failures, oversights, or shortcomings, and acknowledge that these shortcomings have done harm to others. It means overcoming one’s pride and ego, and genuinely saying “sorry” to those who were hurt. It can also mean taking a risk and accepting consequences and criticism. This process is personally and professionally very hard, but it’s vital to restore customers’ trust and confidence. Without acknowledging wrongdoing and making changes to fix it, customers will assume the business doesn’t care about the harm or frustration they caused, and will probably do it again.
Making amends with customers or the public after a difficult situation requires two things: a sincere apology and a solution. Both of these things require the following:
- Admission: Making amends means admitting that the business or the business leaders made a mistake. Clearly state what went wrong and how it happened.
- Acceptance: Accept responsibility for what happened and clearly state who was responsible.
- Apology: Actually say “I’m sorry.” Express regret for what happened.
- Amends: Explain what changes you’ve made to prevent the problem from occurring again. Directly address those who were hurt and offer repairs for the damage.
- No Deflection or Excuses: Many public apologies go awry when the business or spokesperson makes excuses or deflects to an unrelated issue. Stay on-topic and avoid making excuses.
Bring Customers Back
A bad business reputation may hurt public opinion overall, but the bigger impact is generally amongst customers. Issuing a public apology, if it’s done sincerely, can help repair public opinion, but customers and those that were directly affected by the problem should be addressed directly.
This might mean sending an email or letter to customers and providing more details about the problems and solutions, as well as incentive to stay with or revisit your business. When offering incentives to customers, it’s important to remember what type and how much damage was done. If your business frustrated customers with bad customer service or a low-quality product, for example, but no actual harm was done, an apology and a gift certificate might be enough to bring some customers back. However, if customers were physically harmed by the problem, a gift certificate will probably not be appropriate. In that case, more serious conversations with customers will be necessary. As you’re working to bring customers back and reestablish their trust, carefully balance your reaction with the level of harm caused.
Set Up Wins
With the previous steps completed, you’ve made several attempts to fix the problem that caused your bad reputation, and worked to reestablish connections with customers. The next steps involve moving forward, and showcasing what your business does well, so you can replace the negative coverage and perceptions of your business with positive ones.
To repair a bad business reputation and replace negative coverage, you’ll need to set up your business for wins. This might mean investing in your customer service with extra staff and training to provide the best possible customer experience. Or, it might mean investing in exceptional products and giving these products free to select customers. Consider how you might reverse the mistakes made in the past and set up your business and employees for success.
Whether you’re working closely with customers or employees, it’s important to highlight the wins that you’ve set up. When employees solve customers’ problems and create a fantastic experience, encourage them to further engage and create a video case study or video review. Or, if you’re giving high-quality products to customers to try for free, work with them to gather new videos and show how well the products work. There are many ways to highlight wins, especially if employees are empowered to make successes happen.
When you gather these wins, showcase them. Videos are excellent ways to show how you’re creating a fantastic experience, and reversing previous mistakes. Show these videos and testimonials on your website, social media, product pages, and more. As more people see these wins, the memory of your bad reputation will fade.
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