How to rebuild your small business after a reputation blow

Claire Wilson discusses how to recover from a bad reputation and rebuild your small business’ image through a solid content strategy.

Your reputation is critically important as a small business; it must be safeguarded

Your reputation is critically important as a small business; it must be safeguarded

It’s not only large businesses that can suffer from the backlash of unhappy customers after making a big, but often innocent, mistake. Small businesses, who might still be in the early stages of developing their products and services, are at high risk of making mistakes too.

Slip ups in small businesses can happen from time to time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the business will fail; small business owners, just like large ones, can work to rebuild their image and reputation. We can learn valuable lessons from large enterprises, and take learnings forward into our own smaller businesses.

For example, did you know that over half of homeowners of recent new builds in England said they’d experienced major problems including issues with construction, unfinished fittings and faults with utilities? This was a shocking finding to come out of a recent report by Shelter, a housing charity, entitled ‘New Civic Housebuilding’.

Shelter, which commissioned YouGov to run the survey, understandably has concerns about the level of below-standard properties recently constructed. It believes that families are being failed by the production of expensive, yet poor-quality homes, which is backed up by the government’s recent housing white paper, which branded the housing market as ‘broken’.

And construction companies aren’t all to blame; they are simply responding to the government’s request to build more houses to fulfil the current high demand. You know how it goes, if you do things quickly, the likelihood of doing things wrong increases significantly which is one of the reasons many homeowners have ended up with wonky windows and mysterious holes in their walls.

So, what does this mean for the construction companies responsible?

What do you do if you’re the business facing so many unhappy customers?

Let’s take Bovis Homes for example. In January this year, it publicly apologised for its poor standard of properties’ which left new homeowners with snags such as unfurnished kitchens.

In response to the poor standards of the new builds, angry customers had set up social media ‘Bovis Victims’ groups to share tales of their woes and pressure the company to do the right thing.

Recognising it needed to respond and quickly, a spokesman for Bovis Homes released a statement which apologised to affected customers and acknowledged the homes weren’t up to standard: ‘We recognise that our customer service has to improve and we are absolutely committed to getting this right and are taking actions to put in place robust procedures and practices to rectify issues such as these and prevent them from occurring again’.

Crafting the perfect apology

By using language such as ‘recognise’, ‘absolutely committed’, ‘taking actions’, ‘rectify issues’ and ‘prevent’, Bovis Homes can begin to regain its lost trust and mend its reputation with customers. Admitting to mistakes and providing customers with an explanation on how situations will be resolved is the first step towards successfully neutralising bad news and repositioning the brand.

For a small business in particular, customer loyalty and retention is vital for continued success and sales, especially one in the early stages; the perfect customer apology letter or statement should ultimately aim to retain customers and present the opportunity to build customer loyalty.

When writing an apology, it’s important to consider the reasons for the apology, who you’re apologising for, the form of content and the timing. If you don’t get this right then it can just add further insult to injury which is the last thing anyone wants!

Perfectapology.com claims any written business apology or indeed verbal apology should follow the structure of acknowledging the damage/hurt done, recognising your company’s involvement, issuing a statement of regret, asking for forgiveness and finally promising the reader/listener that it will not happen again. By acknowledging the issue straight away and putting your hands up, it’s clear that you are not going to make any excuses and use language which implies you think the issue ‘wasn’t your fault’.

Whether the apology is delivered through a press release, personalised letter, social media post, email, or even verbally, the basic principles are the same and sincerity is critical. Although an apology is often required for ethical reasons, there are also rational strategic reasons to apologise to protect your brand and reputation. Therefore, it’s vital it’s done well to successfully ‘reposition’ a brand.

Small businesses rely on customers in order to build and grow their brand; by being transparent and quick to admit, and apologise for, a mistake, customers will be more likely to feel they can trust you and continue doing business with you.

Make a comeback with content

To come back from severe setbacks which have led to disappointed and appalled customers, companies must (and not just small construction companies) find ways to rebuild trust with customers and the community more broadly. Taking lessons from Bovis homes, small businesses can make a comeback with content by and implement a carefully considered content strategy, which uses engaging and informative content to show transparency and authenticity, helping to return the company to a position of loyalty and trust.

Once a company has built up its trust again amongst customers, it can begin to actively invite online reviews and include customer testimonials on its website or any brochures. This shows a willingness to be accountable and a commitment to improving standards. It could also release regular blog posts about recent successful projects and keep interacting positively with customers on social media sites. These are all ways in which a company could rebuild customer confidence and help its brand recover from damage caused by previous mistakes.

Claire Wilson is content strategy director at Stratton Craig.

Further reading on reputation management

Nominations are now open for the British Small Business Awards 2017, the leading event celebrating the brightest stars in the SME sector. Click here to enter, and make sure you get involved today using the hashtag #BSBAwards. Good luck!

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