A while ago, a complaint appeared on the SellerDeck customer forum about a third party who was spamming our customers using somewhat dubious methods. We got in touch with the offending party and they were totally dismissive: “All’s fair in love and war” seemed to be their attitude.
A few days later, the tone had totally changed. When anyone searched for their company name on Google, the first result returned was the thread on our customer forum. And it wasn’t good for them that every mention was a howling complaint. Swallowing larger chunks of humble pie than I had ever seen before, they promised to reform their ways and begged us to remove the comments about them. It was hard not to feel smug.
But the point of this is not the humbling of one company, it’s that things have changed. It is now much harder to be a bad boy (or girl) and get away with it. In fact, with Twitter, Facebook, review sites and online forums, you can guarantee that your dirty washing will be aired within minutes. Taking an ethical approach to all aspects of business has never made more sense.
So here are my six top tips of some of the things to do and not to do to if you want to avoid being branded a “business bandit”.
- Don’t lie when selling. It will come back to bite you. People expect a sales pitch to push hard, but they hate it when they are told something that isn’t true. In the worst case, they will take legal action.
- Act on all feedback and fix problems. It’s cheaper not to have problems in the first place, but when they occur, the quicker you fix them the less they will damage your reputation. Fixing things quickly will enhance your standing, because we all understand that things go wrong sometimes.
- Be easy to do business with. It’s worth looking at every touch-point with your customers to see if you can make their lives simpler. It’s not just for their benefit, because this tactic should also increase sales and grow brand loyalty. Just look at Apple. In general, treat your customers how you want to be treated.
- Treat your suppliers with respect. This is one that’s easily missed, yet there are a number of reasons for taking this line. Firstly, don’t we all want business to be more pleasurable? Why should we expect our customers to treat us well if we don’t do the same for our suppliers.
Secondly, companies get a reputation within an industry and once you’ve got a bad name it’s hard to shake it off. Then you may need a favour from your suppliers one day. If you’ve always behaved badly, they will be strangely unavailable when needed, or particularly hard to negotiate with on contract renewal. What goes around comes around.
- Communicate responsibly. When you send customers emails or other communications, or participate in forums or social networks, be rational, avoid ranting and behave with integrity and honesty. I have caught out competitors several times over the years masquerading as independent commentators. It’s humiliating for them when it comes to light, and their dishonesty is then on record. It’s not the way to build a business.
- Accept cancellations gracefully. Sometimes your customers don’t want your service any more or wish to return your goods. You won’t retrieve many sales if you are aggressive, but you will ensure that they never return and also tell their acquaintances not to do business with you. If you accept the situation with grace, you can earn a friend.
In the early days of my company when we were desperate for sales, one of our few customers returned his purchase. We handled the situation courteously and quickly. The customer turned out to be a journalist, and they sang our praises in print for years afterwards.
My final thought is this. Most of us want to do a good job for our customers. If we stick to these points, we will not only run a more successful business, but we’ll also feel better about it.