In business it doesn't matter what you sell – widgets, doo-hickeys or some sort of service. All businesses are selling one thing in common – their reputation.
If you run a small day spa and you run out of Ultra Bronze Super Orange Self-Tanning Cream on a busy weekend, your customers likely will forgive you.
But if you lose your reputation, you have nothing left to sell.
That's why word of mouth is so important. You want to talk about your positives, and more importantly get happy customers and colleagues talking about you, too.
It doesn't matter if you're a local business owner or the CEO of a major multinational firm, people want to do business with professionals and companies that have the trust and respect of their peers.
Most – smart – major corporations know this and monitor their reputation closely in the news and on social media.
Guaranteed, if someone posts a negative experience with a Crayola product on Twitter, the Easton-based company will respond quickly – and publicly – seeking to understand and hopefully solve the problem.
With strong name recognition already in place (Who among us has never used a Crayola crayon?), the company concentrates on maintaining its good name rather than hawking new products, as is well illustrated in an article by a social media blogger on the website www.socialmedia.today.
I know several social media savvy people who turn to Twitter and Facebook when they can't get satisfaction with a company's customer service department.
You'd be amazed at how fast the response many of them have received when they hashtagged the company's name in a fiery complaint.
Small businesses can build their reputation similarly by helping fellow small businesses with their problems and being a good business friend.
Small-business owners are all in the same boat, trying to find ways to get their name out to the public and build their customer base. They're always happy to refer a fellow small-business person they know excels in a particular area because they know how valuable such referrals can be.
For example, today I went on Facebook ranting about the problems I was having with the new company that had bought my mortgage.
I won't mention the name – although I'm tempted – because that would be a bit of an abuse of the power of my blog. However, the company aroused my ire most recently by failing to pay my homeowners insurance out of my escrow account.
The customer service rep claimed "they hadn't gotten a bill," but I had already spoken with my insurance agent who assured me she had the record that the bill had been sent.
When I informed him of that, he quickly changed his tune and suddenly "found" my information. He assured me it would be paid before the "policy cancellation" date.
My complaint generated a number of recommendations for mortgage brokers in the Lehigh Valley that could help me refinance with a new mortgage company that would be a little easier to do business with.
Several of them – all of them from Lehigh Valley business professionals – came up with the same name.
Guess who I called?
If that professional was the first name on the lips (or fingertips) of that many people whose opinion I value, that was going to be the professional I call.
Conversely, it's my hope that all of those people saw the name of the mortgage company I complained about online. I did include it my Facebook post.
Maybe someone will think twice about using that company, which truly has awful, awful service. And, maybe the company will see it and think twice about the way it does business.