Protect Your Reputation, Its all you’ve got!

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My wife Jennifer and I recently started building a new house.  So far, this has been a horrible experience. In large part, I attribute our stress to our struggle to connect with a reputable builder. By that, I don’t mean to infer that reputable builders are hard to find, but rather that we’ve just had poor luck. However, in thinking about our experience, there are lessons learned that apply to our consulting business.

Our experience with our first builder was troubling.  A referral of a business associate, they initially seemed competent enough; and, they build a lot of house for the price (yes I know, a poor way to select any trade or professional). I ignored early trouble signs. The builder was slow to return phone calls or emails. His staff told me he didn’t like to work directly with the customers. Instead, he delegated that chore to his realtor (Hey he’s an artisan, he must be too busy building beautiful homes to service all his happy clients). Later, rumors circulated they were struggling to meet financial obligations in a timely manner (I own a business; I understand they may need to manage accounts payable).

However, I could no longer ignore my concerns after hearing more from past customers. I didn’t realize his company had previously had a different name. Suddenly, it seemed everywhere I turned; I was hearing horror stories. Last weekend, we decided to pull-the-plug and look for help elsewhere.

Contrast this experience with that of our new builder.  This builder is energetic and interested in servicing our needs. His staff and realtor are passionate about their product. Most important, their homeowners are passionate about their homes. To secure our business, this new builder had us walk through homes occupied by happy homeowners. An inconvenience for their customers? Maybe. However, each seemed eager to welcome us to their family of prideful owners.

Our first builder never inviting us to visit with happy clients?

This experience made me think about the importance of reputation in our industry.  It has also reminded me of the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Today, more than ever, your firm’s reputation is everything. Protect it at all costs. You can do this by:

1.)    Remembering that positive client relationship building takes consistent effort – Client relationships are built one encounter at a time.  This means that every encounter can either improve a client relationship or deteriorate it. As I work to improve every client encounter, I focus on being in the moment during client meetings or when on a client phone call. When with a client, I don’t multi-task. Instead, I turn off the computer screen, I silence the buzzing smart phone, and I request that my administrative assistant hold all competing calls.

2.) Correcting client issues quickly – Take a long-term approach when considering your response to an unhappy client. If you’ve decided your unhappy client is worthy of continued long-term investment, and you’ve carefully sought to understand their issues, you then must demonstrate to your client a commitment to improve. This will require action, and a specific plan to resolve the client’s issue. Although this may seem like hard work, consider the effort required to replace good clients in this difficult economic environment.

3.)    Managing your reputation through aggressive marketing and messaging – Ultimately, you must control the message. Certainly, the majority of the good word-of-mouth marketing your receive will result from consistent good service. However, a well-planned (and funded) marketing program will message your way to a solid perception of your firm’s reputation.

In order to be credible, your existing clients must be involved in your marketing efforts.  Good clients want you to be successful. As a result, many will provide testimonials, introduce you their peers, and recommend you openly to other decision makers in their organizations. Ask them regularly for these recommendations. You’ll be surprised by their positive response.

As stated earlier, your reputation is everything. You’ll protect that reputation by seeking positive encounters every time, by responding quickly to client issues, and by involving your existing customers in your marketing program. This hard work will also help differentiate your firm and develop additional business.

Derrick Smith is a partner with consulting firm MacKay & Sposito, Inc. (M&S), an infrastructure planning and design firm based in the Pacific Northwest. M&S services Water Resources, Energy, Community Development, and Geospatial clients and markets throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Derrick publishes regularly in several regional and national journals that focus on business development, project management, and human resources topics related to his industry. Derrick Smith’s thoughts and past articles can be found at He can also be followed @derrick_smith.
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