Your Reputation Is Being Defined During This Crisis
by Betsy Burton
Many businesses and public entities spend significant time, energy, and money establishing a brand and reputation. Be it “a provider of quality products and services,” “an environmentally sustainable company,” “a low-cost and high-service provider,” or “a global business with a broad portfolio of products and services,” an organization’s brand is a critical part of its marketing efforts and overall business.
But often, brands are not defined by a marketing effort. A company’s brand can either be earned or destroyed by action or inaction, particularly during times of change and crisis.
In this blog, we explore a few cases where we are seeing a company’s brand being reshaped by customers, partners, and employees during the pandemic.
Think about the brand you are creating today. Your customers, partners, and employees are watching how your leaders are responding to this crisis. And they will remember how they are treated when it passes.
Work With Your Customer to Find Solutions
I recently spoke with a customer of a large service provider. They had been a client for several years and considered themselves a valued customer. The problem is that the customer’s business is being dramatically reduced by the impact of COVID-19. As a result, they contacted their service provider to see if they could renegotiate their service agreement to adjust to the current crisis. The customer still needed the quality of services, but the demand was lower since the company had fewer employees and customers.
The issue is that the service provider was not prepared to negotiate any lower service fees. Their response was that they had defined levels of service and that the customer could reduce their costs by moving to a lower-tier service, which would affect the quality and functionality of the service.
The customer ended up telling the provider to put their service on hold. They also explained that they would not be returning to that provider. And, in fact, they are now using this business down-time to find alternatives. Their reasoning? They do not trust their provider anymore.
The brand their provider had spent years building was damaged because they were not able to respond to their customer. They were not trying to treat their customer badly, but because they were unable to change their business to support their customer they damaged their reputation.
Your Employees Will Remember How They Are Treated
I recently spoke with an employee for an essential front-line business. The employees of this business deal with people every day who are both potential COVID-19 carriers and who are also vulnerable. The employees asked their management for hazard pay, and the answer back was a flat “no.” The employees said the basic message they received was that they were “lucky to be employed.”
The issue is not only that the employee did not get the hazard pay they needed, but that the employee did not feel acknowledged or valued. They appreciated that their management told them they were supported and important to the business and community; but the lack of any substance behind these words was stressful and disheartening.
The employee expressed that any bonus or stipend would have gone a long way; even a gift card would have helped.
It is important to recognize that many businesses and government organizations are under extreme financial pressure during this time. But it is also important for enterprises to consider and balance the long-term impact and cost of damaging relationships with their employees.
It is vital for enterprises to maintain a good reputation and treat their associates with dignity during this time of crisis.
Proactively Manage Your Business Strategy and Brand
In a recently released research note, I highlighted how important it is for organizations to take this opportunity to respond to immediate demands, while also ensuring that they understand the possible future-state and proactively plan for how they will operate, if not thrive, in that future-state (see COVID-19 Action: Define Your Business Goals and Strategy, Now).
It is also important to recognize the impact that immediate actions are having on your long-term brand and reputation. More than words, advertisements, jingles, press releases, and social media, your customers, partners, and employees will remember how they are being treated during this tough time.
Are you proactively working with your customers to make things a bit easier for them like many auto insurance companies? Are you recognizing your employees on the front-lines with more than words of support like grocery chains Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and New Leaf?
These companies are proactively addressing their customers’ and employees’ needs. They are not doing so based on a government mandate or requirement, but because it is the right thing to do. And in doing so, they are solidifying their brand and loyalty.
The right thing to do is find the balance between meeting your business operating demands and meeting the needs of your customers, employees, and partners. In addition, it makes business sense to support your customers, employees, and partners because you will need them in the future.
If your business damages your brand during the coronavirus contagion, it will be significantly harder to rebuild. But if your business improves your brand and reputation during this time, your customers, partners, and employees will likely be the first ones to help you rebuild.
Editor’s Note: check out Aragon’s business strategy resources for managing the coronavirus.