Manage your reputation, consumers are watching

A few weeks ago, I received a safety recall notice from Hyundai advising that the connections in my car’s rear lights could potentially malfunction and result in an accident. My first thought was to quickly schedule an appointment. My second thought was what a powerful tool a recall notice can be in terms of strengthening a company’s corporate reputation.

According to the Reputation Institute, and an article published in Communication World (Dec/11), 61 per cent of consumers’ purchase intentions are formed by their perceptions of the companies behind the products. What’s more, 58 per cent of consumers will recommend a product based on their perception of the company involved. But only 42 per cent will do so based solely on their perception of the product. I’m definitely part of the 58 per cent. Not only will I recommend a Hyundai to friends thinking about a new car, I also wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one myself.

Safety matters to me, and so does service. Recently, one of my dogs was injured at the dog park and was in considerable pain. When I called the vet, there were no immediate openings, but his assistant moved things around and found us a spot so she could be seen quickly. My dog ended up just needing some anti-inflammatory medication and limited exercise. Nonetheless, the vet called two days after the appointment to make sure that my dog’s pain was being managed effectively and to see that everything was okay. I’m sure my vet sees hundreds of animals in a week. But the fact that he took time out of his day to follow up with a personal call made all the difference to me. I certainly have no qualms about recommending him to other dog owners.

These are fairly straight-forward examples, and each one quantifies, in dollar terms, the value of corporate reputation. A 1996 study by a global accounting firm estimates that roughly 80 per cent of a company’s market value is based on ‘intangibles’ such as reputation. And I can see why. As a consumer, and professional communicator, I appreciate that in each of the cases I’ve mentioned here, there was clear and unambiguous communication between the company/service provider and myself: On the one hand, I received a short recall notice written in non-tech language with specific instructions about next steps; on the other, I was slotted into an already busy schedule and received a friendly follow-up call inquiring about my pet’s condition. In each case, I experienced top-notch service, at a reasonable price, and there were no surprises.

In my work, I find there are a few things that tend to damage corporate reputation. Sending mixed messages is a big one. Saying one thing and doing another, and not following through on promises are also high on the list. And increasingly, because of the expectations created by the uber-connected world we live in, there are risks in not providing a robust platform for two-way communication with key stakeholders and, also, in not listening to what those stakeholders have to say.

Compare and contrast these two examples: When the Mayor of Calgary went above and beyond to help those homeowners affected by the recent floods to deal with their personal losses — even going so far as to take on the head of one of the major Canadian railways over issues of regulatory safety — that speaks highly to his integrity and his brand. When the Prime Minister showed up at the site of the Lac Megantic explosion a few weeks later to offer support, somehow it didn’t have the same effect because lingering in the background are the unresolved issues of Senate spending. Until there is clarity around these issues, expressed to Canadians in clear, unambiguous terms, and in a context that seems credible, my sense is that his corporate reputation will continue to take a hit.

No matter what the context, the upshot is pretty clear. All of these examples focus on opportunities, what it takes to make the most of them, and what it takes to forfeit them. Corporate reputation management is really about risk mitigation. The important thing is to walk your walk. And as you do, remember, these days the cameras are always on.