While in Arizona recently, I had a conversation with a gentleman named Steve who runs a sports bar and grill in Aurora, Colorado. Upon getting through the pleasantries, he asked my thoughts about online reputation management. While he didn’t say exactly what his concern was, we talked generally about the subject.

Online reputation is not that much different from “offline” reputation except for one major aspect; any fool can become an “uncorkable” expert on Facebook. There is a defense for the fool in town who everyone knows is full of BS; avoid them. That is harder to do online because you can’t limit their digital presence. Anyone who has the time, the inclination and an internet connection can become the person you want to—but can’t—avoid.

I believe that there are two aspects of reputation management that a business owner needs to know in order provide the value customers want. We all need to know what our customers want and we need to know how we can help them get what they want.

In the Harvard Business Review, Theodore Leavitt said, “Customers attach value to a product in proportion to its perceived ability to solve their problems or meet their needs.” We don’t care that a business exists unless we understand how that business will make our personal, individual lives better. 

Steve and I spoke about how online reputation management is simply an extension of overall care and concern for our customers. 

What do they want? And what do they want to experience?

They want your product or service to make their life better while being treated like a valuable person. People need a used car but they don’t want the typical used-car buying experience. They also want to be treated with respect if and when something goes wrong.

This point was brought home when one of the coaches we were traveling with told us that her husband took their natural gas vehicle in for an oil change. This was done while he was at home in Utah and she was driving home from Arizona with us. He went to a different dealership than they normally use because of a time restriction. The oil change was done properly and the dealership tried to go the extra mile by washing the car.

There was just one problem with the car wash. The coach’s natural gas vehicle has a large tank in the trunk and so there is no room there to hold stuff. Her stuff goes on top of her car in a Thule rooftop cargo carrier. 

(Do you see where this is going? It’s going into an automatic car wash…where it should never go.)

When her husband was told by the dealership that the oil change was done he was also told two other things:

1) We are giving you a loaner car…because your car is going across the parking lot to our body shop for a couple of weeks…because we basically ripped the roof off of your car in the automatic car wash…when we didn’t think about your roof rack…which is now laying on the ground.

2) That will be $45 for the oil change.

It blew my mind that the dealership had the unmitigated gaul to charge $45 for the oil change after basically ripping the roof off of their car.

This easily turns into an online crisis communication experience if the car owners does three things:

1) Post a picture of the damaged car online

2) Tell the truth about what happened and how they just had a “used-car buying” experience.

3) Post picture of the $45 bill for the oil change.

It can also be easily avoided by the dealership by owning up to what you did and having the senior person present personally explain what happened. The manager or owner then tells the customer that there will be no charge for the repairs—or for the oil change.

It is a lot less expensive to do the right thing first rather than having to pay to clean up a crisis. Dealing with an online crisis gets really, really expensive…but that is another topic for another day.