Don’t be a Brutus Backstabber

If you are engaging a speaker for your students, your event or your business,  applying good public relations practices critical for your reputation. I’ve recently been on a public speaking circuit and/or had occasion to help others with their engagements. Thought I’d share some observations.

One of my closest friends teaches high school English. To engage her students in the story of Julius Caesar and Brutus, students were assigned a media relations challenge: conduct a media publicity campaign for either Caesar or Brutus and defend the case. Kids did great jobs: citizen on the street reaction to the death of Caesar, radio scoops interviewing “Brutus” and TV reality shows. For those who have forgotten their high school history, Brutus and Caesar were pals until Caesar started making like a king. Brutus thought a republic with fair representation a better way to go. Seeing his friend’s grandiose ideas, Brutus felt his only option was to take Caesar out-stabbed him in the back. About 3/4ths of the students supported Brutus and the push for democracy, even though killing was extreme. We talked about the challenge in public relations about taking on a client who goes against the administration and when that is appropriate, overcoming oppressive regimes.

My friend invited two of us working in the field of public relations to come “judge” the media efforts. We committed nearly three hours of our time to observe 4-50 students present their cases and provided feedback on the elements of persuasion and public relations they showcased. Gladly arranged my schedule to accommodate this educational endeavor.

But the high school administration became Brutus. My entire experience was ruined when I went to my car. You see I couldn’t find any parking upon arriving. I got to the school at the appointed time but couldn’t find parking and still had to negotiate signing in at the front office. The 6-8 visitor parking spots were all occupied, the street parking was full, so I parked in a spot clearly marked faculty. There were several open faculty spots, not like I was preventing faculty from parking closely. When I returned to my car an astrobright gold piece of paper was on my windshield. The note read

You have parked in a faculty designated parking spot. In future, park in the designated visitor parking. -High School Administration.

Clearly the administration knew I was a visitor and not a student. What an abysmal way to treat a visitor. I had to sign in and state my purpose as a guest. They knew why I was there–to share my expertise with their students. And yet, they left a nasty gram on my windshield. No one asked me where I parked when I checked in. But they sure wanted me to know where to park if I ever came back.

If the high school teacher who invited me wasn’t my best friend, I wouldn’t ever go back. I’ve painted a mural on the wall over a hot summer weekend for the class. This is the third year I’ve volunteered time to provide professional insight to student class work. And one moment could easily have ruined our relationship (mine with the school, not my friend). I told my friend about my disappointment, so this isn’t a surprise. But she wasn’t surprised either. The school administration’s heavy handed approach created a great analogy for the class assignment, fulfilling both Caesar and Brutus parts.

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How to manage and address your reputation

Your word and your reputation cannot afford a poor image when you’re a business owner. You might have the best bed and breakfast or the savviest bookkeeping skills or the cleanliest service, but if your referral reputation doesn’t match that, you could be out of business.

Know what’s being said about you and where. Check your reputation. They can manage negative comments for a price;  you can see where you and your company are listed for free.  They can also help you correct all the bad info out there. You’d be surprised what comes up. I did a search and one source had me working for a company I know, but have never worked for. Another client is battling outdated info. Some sources have her business location that’s been inaccurate for more than 10 years!

There are tons of review sites: Google Places, Yelp, Consumer Reports, AngiesList and hundreds more. They can be related to service, trips, professionals, teachers, the list is endless. Then several business sites such as Amazon.com and CraigsList also have review options. Your name and reputation could be anywhere. Know it. Check it regularly.

If your business is getting less than stellar or 5 star ratings, here are a few recommendations on how to address:

  1. If there is a system problem, fix it. Make sure cleaning staff have maps to location. Call two days ahead to confirm date and time and location for service or reservation. Address the scheduling needs for the client. Whatever it is that leads to the common complaints, address. It’s amazing how a poor tracking system or timing can impact customer service.
  2. If there was a lack of clarity for coupon test services like Groupon, be sure to clarify the expectations for any further patrons. Sometimes the expectations aren’t clear and so the client gets disappointed
  3. Reach out to every client on the bad reviews, assuming you can identify them and offer a  compensation for their service challenges. Either another stay, a free meal, something to try to make it work.
  4. Take advantage of using the owners comment section to indicate how you were willing to fix this situation. You should apologize on each one and not leave them hanging. DO NOT ARGUE as the owners response. If you disagree with their assessment, don’t say so on a public comment. That just starts a disagreement war and you’ll lose. Perception is key; they didn’t like the service, doesn’t matter what went wrong. I’d use language to the effect:“ We are sorry you experienced service that didn’t meet your expectations. We have improved our follow up system and are providing staff clear directions. We are adjusting our schedule to address delays. We want you to be satisfied with your  service and are willing to make it up to you if you’ll give us a chance.” If they take you up on it, you may or may not salvage a client. But if you at least show you are willing to try, anyone else reading the review can take that into account.
    1. Don’t use the exact same language on each, address the biggest concern and tell them how you’d like to fix it.
    2. Contact the review site directly. Check if they filtered” positive comments; if the positives are legitimate, then ask the review site to put them up. Understand that if you get friends to put up comments all on the same day as the negative, that can be filtered.
    3. If any of the  negative reviews aren’t accurate or you have a different perception of what actually happened you can actually challenge the review with most review sites—but you may not be successful.

It’s tough to please clients. You might also consider sending each client a follow up email after their service and ask for a review on the site you preferand provide them to the link. You could do this every Friday or something. Make it easy. Send it to the clients who love your work and your staff at first. But get in the habit of sending to all clients; checking the reviews and RESPONDING to them—good or bad.

Just remember to always respond to negatives. Try to make it right. Get in the habit of seeking positive comments. Pay attention to what’s being said about you. It matters. It’ll save your reputation.

 

Are you asking questions?

MCASwiki picture. Site no longer updated.

To find out what your clients want, sometimes the best thing to do is ask them. Take advantage of the survey options available. You can go to online tools like such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang. Depending on budget you can mail, do phone, in person.

News affects your business-are you prepared or will you sink?

Celebrity Solstice photo from Gran Caneria, in no way related to the Costa line or tragedy

Likely you’ve seen the news and know about cruise ship Costa Concordia. You know, the Italian cruise where the captain used his ship to play chicken with the coastline, abandoned ship (oops, fell into the life boat) and tragically more than 30 people are missing  or dead.This tragedy has impacted a variety of businesses.

In my Pilates class, several friends are taking advantage of the “huge discounts” all cruise ships are offering to counter cancelled trips. The cruise line industry is feeling the repercussion of one incompetent captain, creating a public relations crisis they didn’t make and have no control over.

The Washington Post blog by Melissa Bell talks about the poor timing of an American Express direct mail piece suggesting the recipient “immerse” in the Mediterranean cruise experience aboard the…you guessed it Costa Concordia. The Amex advert was offering a $50 onboard credit for the end of February/early March cruise. Talk about timing. Now Amex is dealing with a public relations crisis, again that they didn’t create.

If the travel industry is on its game they’ll be sharing blogs and social media posts, direct mail and email conversations with their patrons about the safety records of their ships and captains, and generally addressing the concerns in addition to the incentives.

American Express if its on its game will also address the situation. I couldn’t find any media statements or comments on their website or Twitter account about cruises, their safety or their recommendations. May be you can.

Six tips in the ART of Giving from Business

The holidays are upon us. Every non-profit worth their salt is reaching out to businesses because they know tax write-off season is the end of the calendar year and they are making the asks. Corporate philanthropy should be a value for the company first, before being a public relations tactic. If you get involved in the community, give because it’s the right thing to do. Corporate sponsorship can be philanthropic, but if you expect a lot of kudos for the gift, it’s not altruistic.

Know why you want to give and to whom and what, if anything you want to get out of it

  • Set a criteria now–because some smart non-profit is going to ask you to be a donor—programs that involve kids, animals, education? Women’s issues, political philosophy. Up to you, but think about it now.
  • Decide a budget for how many raffle prizes you donate or table tickets you want to purchase. Then stick to it.
  • Know your cash flow so you know WHEN you can buy tickets or provide a financial contribution.
  • Decide if you’re going to do a philanthropic effort for your community–putting food collection barrels in your office or taking your entire team to  volunteer for a needy group. Spend some time with seniors–help them decorate their homes and then clean up after the holidays. Volunteer to help a non-profit spruce up ITs space–either decorations or maybe just “winter cleaning”.
  • Certainly get the word out, because the media loves human interest stories. But be sure it’s newsworthy. Try reaching out to groups often neglected. Nothing against kids, but lots of folks do toy drives. How about a drive for foster kids aging out of the system with no where to go. They turn 18 and get turned out. Help them get set up with apartment necessities.
  • Share your stories of giving back–take pictures and post them on all your online platforms.
  • Consider employees when making a philanthropic gesture. Even a paid day off can go a long way for company morale. Can’t swing that, maybe half a day. Or a staff gift basket of goodies.

Philanthropy is about generosity that shows concern for human advancement. Underwriting an endeavor – being the sponsor – can be philanthropy with benefits. May you celebrate the coming holidays. And give as generously to your charities of choice as you can.

Emoticons Don’t Fix Tone in Email

A generational business gap exists in the professional communication realm, especially when sending internal emails. The gap relates to the use of emoticons-the use of a Colon Hyphen Right Parenthesis to make a “smiley face”. 🙂  From a purely professional perspective, we shouldn’t use them. They aren’t professional. To be honest, I DO use them, depending on who I’m “talking” to in email. We have become a society that relies on virtually instant written communication, but as a species we aren’t designed to communicate only in words on a screen. We miss tone, inflection, and intent when we can’t read body language or look someone in the eye. And those of us in the right brained world, the social bees, tend to compensate by providing a symbolic version. My preference is the *-). To me that’s a wink, just meant as a friendly sign off on a comment. My emails don’t proliferate with them and certainly not in a request for a meeting or an email discourse on starting the problem solving process. (Because you know if it takes more than 3 emails to solve a question, it’s time to have a meeting or at least get on the phone if colleagues work in different towns, states, countries).

What brought this up is a twitter conversation with a former student now in the professional world. She actually indicated that she’s seen the use of an emoticon placed next to a demanding directive from a supervisor–not at her current place of employment. And she thought that was normal. It’s not. If you are sharing a funny story with a colleague in building rapport with them especially if you live/work in different communities, then an emoticon, while still not professional, can be used. I’m not trying to be an emoticon dictator. But really if you are exchanging information-especially in a formal request to ask employees to do something or to share a report or other professional emails likely to be archived as professional documents, then leave the emoticons off.

Professionals use them. I follow a sales and marketing guru who clearly loves people and relationships. And occasionally she’ll send her version of the smiley face with her e-news in the section where she posts a personal note. This is her style. doesn’t bother me; but I can see how this style would be off putting for someone else.

My advice to my student is to watch the use of emoticons when communicating with colleagues and supervisors at work. Know exactly when it is appropriate-and ideally avoid it. Save them for your text messages or tweets to your friends.

The DMV and Customer Service

Who knew you could go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and get great customer service? With state budget cuts and eliminated services the experience at the DMV could have been a nightmare. But Nevada has done some extraordinary work.

First service oriented feature is on their website: at the top of the home page they provide a rough timeline of expected waiting periods for every town. This could help those with limited lunch hours for personal errands to plan accordingly. It’s not a perfect solution to the need for wait times, but geez I’d love to see a doctor’s office pull that off.

Once there I stood in line to get a number. Got my number and an idea of all the forms needed from the helpful staff. Waited the 40 minutes projected from the website. I was able to get caught up on social media and email while there. Brought a book, but never got to it. When I got to the counter, there was a problem with the VIN number–the insurance number didn’t match the dealer’s form. Past customer service problems would have required me to leave, go figure out my insurance and come back. Instead the staff were prepared to make my auto registration a success. The clerk gave me a fax number for me to give to the auto company. While I called them, she continued the paperwork. SHE was faster than the insurance company. We got my driver’s license renewal taken care of while waiting for the insurance. The document still hadn’t arrived but I didn’t lose my place or have to go back. The process allowed for me to sign an affidavit that I would have insurance. She gave me a form to verify that my insured status moved from pending to confirmed from the convenience of my own. Any one of these steps could have created a service nightmare, but service was actually the answer for the day.

Customer service isn’t just employing nice staff—it’s providing solutions BEFORE there’s a problem; it’s anticipating what will be convenient and mitigating what won’t. And it’s assuring staff are focused on customer needs, empowered to make decisions and have ownership in the results.