You've probably heard the term "crisis communications", where companies take steps to communicate with customers during times of turmoil. This usually means something bad has happened and the company is trying to recover their standing in customers' eyes by trying to explain and make things right.
Companies should definitely establish a crisis communications plan so they're not caught off guard when tragedy strikes or when public relations disasters happen. PR disasters are almost unavoidable the longer a company is around, especially as it grows larger and more influential.
Read more about social media PR disasters here.
But companies should take action to get in front of problems as well. Be proactive and identify potential problems before they become disasters. Brands that take steps to continually improve their standing in customers' eyes, even if they're not making their complaints go viral, will be positioned to thrive.
How Wal-Mart is Improving Customer Relations
Wal-Mart has often been criticized on everything from how they treat and pay their employees, to how their products are sourced. But what is impressive to me is the current CEO's efforts to turn the company around in customers' eyes AND communicate those efforts and subsequent changes. Since Wal-Mart is a publicly traded company they are required to make certain information available to the public. But how a company does this can make all the difference in building or damaging consumer trust.
In a recent press release, Wal-Mart announced that CEO Greg Foran will speak with investors and analysts about changes to the business. This is following an extensive review he's undertaken of the company, including personally stocking shelves, talking to customers, and visiting 116 stores unannounced. (Read more on MSN.com)
But beyond just speaking with key individuals, such as investors and documenting it for the public, they will be webcasting the informal event so that any consumer can listen in real time. This opens up the possibility for consumers to voice their opinions online. While their use of a webcast opens them up to additional customer scrutiny, it also has the potential to build customer trust. Those interested can watch the webcast at http://news.walmart.com/events/ later this week.
Your business may not be publicly traded or have the need to webcast leadership meetings, but there are lessons you can take away from the efforts Wal-Mart is taking to improve consumer trust. Think about areas that your customers might want to voice their opinion and invite them to do so before they rant online.
Are you about to change the label of a well-known product? Perhaps you can allow customers to submit requests or designs for consideration. Maybe even allow public voting through your Facebook page or website so people can indicate their favorite design submissions.
Do your customers have an easy way of providing feedback? Regularly send out customer surveys to get a sense of how your customers feel about their interaction with your brand. Don't wait until there's an obvious problem; get ahead of the situation and address challenges before customers feel the full extent of it.
Utilize Social Media to Improve Consumer Trust
Social media is a primary way customers interact with brands online. Make sure your company is present on relevant social networks. But don't simply maintain a one-way conversation, posting content without replying to comments. When customers post on your Facebook page or mention you on Twitter, be sure to write back in a timely manner.
Don't be afraid of unflattering comments, and don't delete posts simply because they're negative. Respond to customer's concerns with sympathy and be proactive in seeking resolution. That customer with the concern, as well as every other customer that sees your interaction, will feel more connected to your brand, and the trust developed will encourage them to purchase from your company again.