As American business magnet Warren Buffett said, ‘it takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it’.
Benefit assessment company Capita are learning that the hard way.
In March 2018, they assessed a Shropshire woman, Victoria Smith – who suffered from agoraphobia and fibromyalgia and was in constant pain – to see how her disabilities affected her life.
And affect her life they did, as they said she didn’t score a single point on their assessment scale and, consequently, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stopped her personal independence payments (PIP).
A mere few months after her payments stopped, Miss Smith’s condition deteriorated and she passed away from a brain haemorrhage.
Her family believe that she relied on the benefits to help give her some independence, the ability to look after herself and as normal a life as possible.
Once they were taken away, she simply ‘gave up’.
In a twist of fate, a social security tribunal decided she had been eligible for PIP after all… the week after her death.
Granted, it won’t bring Victoria back, but Capita were ordered to pay £10,000 in damages over their handling of her disability claim after being found to have made incorrect statements.
Needless to say, the tragedy has done nothing for the health assessment company’s reputation.
This was a case of maladministration (and making inaccurate statements) at its worst. And, needless to say, consumers now have very little faith in Capita’s ability to make fair and accurate judgement.
It’s no wonder, really. No end-user in their right mind is going to trust a company that makes fatal errors, which, doubtlessly, played a part in such a tragedy.
They aren’t doing themselves and favours either, because they are standing by their assessment of Miss Smith, saying it was “fit for purpose, accurate and medically justified”.
Even though it was found that she was eligible, after all.
They also failed to respond to the court, though they are blaming a mail system error for that. Yeah, right. Whatever.
What’s that coming your way, Capita? Yep, that’s right. Significant negative press and reputational damage.
And if any liability for the tragedy wasn’t enough, there’s also the fact that their screw up was funded by public expense.
It seems Capita is going to be viewed as a company that persecutes the disabled and vulnerable.
And that’s not looked upon favourably by anyone.
Talk about an emotive end user experience for all the wrong reasons.
Watch your backs
Granted, most companies aren’t likely to find themselves at the heart of such a tragedy.
But that doesn’t mean that your reputation will never suffer. No sir-ee.
All it takes is a dissatisfied customer with a penchant for airing their woes on social media.
Or an ineffective response to consumer issues from customer feedback management teams.
No brand is infallible. Reputations can be easily broken, so it’s important to try and maintain it.
But what can you do to protect yourself from an attack on your brand?
And what do you have to do to build and restore your good reputation after it’s taken a beating?
Because it can happen. Even unfair attacks are nothing new. Slander against companies is as old as the hills.
Newspapers have used misleading and sensationalised stories to improve circulation for years.
Even though things have changed in the printed press due to libel and slander laws, anything goes on the internet because the guidelines aren’t the same.
Free speech is alive and kicking in cyber space.
So, what’s a brand to do?
It’s important to monitor your brand online.
If you keep up to date about what’s being said about your business on search engine results pages and Google Autocomplete, you can stay one step ahead of any negative stories and take a proactive approach to protecting your reputation.
You will also need a plan for fixing your reputation. It’s a matter of foresight.
Set up Google alerts using brand names, product tags, competitors, popular search phrases and more.
And if you discover a problem, find a solution!
Sometimes, the best answer is not to respond at all, especially if the offending website performs on comments. You don’t want to feed the fire and help them gain further popularity!
You can also help your reputation by having authority. Make sure your social media platforms have a strong following.
To do that, you need to engage with people, be a thought leader in your industry and be transparent about your brand.
Building your industry authority outside of the internet will help too.
It’s also important to own your past. If your company does something wrong, acknowledge it. And apologise.
Control the conversation about your brand, as well as using social media to clarify customer misunderstandings.
When responding to social media posts, make sure you base what you say on research, not emotions. And take complaints offline where possible to give an issue less visibility. It also gives the consumer a faster, more personalised response.
The key is to be proactive. In that way, you can prevent an issue from becoming a crisis.
You also need to reward loyal customers, be quick to respond and apologise, use testimonials to help build positivity and be transparent when dealing with end users.
What’s more, patience is a virtue… possess it if you can! It takes years to build a good reputation and rebuilding a damaged one takes even longer.
But stay on the ball and, hopefully, you won’t be one of the unlucky ones that gets their reputation trashed on Twitter.