A Franchise Business Owner’s Guide to Online Reputation Management

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Imagine this: an angry customer posting a terrible experience with one of your employees on social media for all the world to see, going viral because of an inappropriate tweet, or someone posting about finding hair or other similarly disgusting items in your products.

It’s every business owner’s nightmare, even more so for franchisees. Franchise business owners enjoy many benefits, from a higher chance of success to assistance with training employees. However, these benefits come with several binding agreements, and breaking any of these terms could land you in major trouble.

If a sole proprietorship did something that resulted in massive backlash, it would only impact their business. However, if it happens in a franchise, it affects the whole brand. Tarnishing a brand’s reputation often counts as a violation in franchise contracts and could result in hefty fines or even termination.

Assuming you only got off with a slap on the wrist, you still have to deal with the public in the aftermath of the disaster. This is where online reputation management comes in. 

What is online reputation management?

Online reputation management not only helps you build up a positive brand image but also helps you mitigate the damage caused by negative franchise reviews and bad press. This often comes in the form of making a public statement or apology addressing the issue at hand or taking concrete action to assist or compensate the parties affected.

For franchisees, you often can’t take action without the approval of your parent company. Your superiors will most likely have a reputation management strategy ready for various situations, so as much as you want to address the negative feedback quickly, being too rash may make things worse for both you and the company. 

Why is online reputation management important?

We live in a time where customers are distrustful of brands, especially of big corporations, so you must do all you can to convince customers that your business is trustworthy and worth patronizing. With online reputation management, you can maintain a transparent and organic relationship with your consumers, build brand loyalty, and effectively combat slander, poor customer experience, and other hits to your brand image.

How do I start with online reputation management?

1. Monitoring reviews and social media mentions

Staying on top of your social media mentions means that you can catch any conflict the moment it arises. The faster you can address issues, the less likely they’ll blow up and attract the attention of other customers and the press. To make this easier, use monitoring tools like Hootsuite, which syncs to almost all social media sites and gives you an interface that monitors your real-time search results and mentions.

When you encounter negative comments, tweets, or posts, respond with empathy and provide the displeased customer with a concrete solution or a way to contact you directly. Never fight fire with fire. It’s unacceptable to respond to customer complaints with insults and accusations of falsehood. Until a closer investigation reveals otherwise, it’s always better to assume that the customer is in the right.

The same applies to franchise reviews on your Google My Business and other sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Trustpilot. Extend your grace to customers leaving positive reviews by thanking them for their patronage. When you encounter a negative review, respond to the customer respectfully and offer them an apology, compensation, and a promise to do better.

Ignoring, or worse, deleting negative comments will only aggravate customers and increase distrust for your brand. Additionally, the absence of any low reviews on your business could do more harm than good for your business as consumers view a lack of 1 to 3-star reviews as a sign of a business using fake reviews.

2. Respond to private messages promptly

Often, a public outburst from an unhappy customer could have been avoided if you had only responded to their private message. Most customers don’t want to make a fuss out of their bad experience, so they try to reach out to the company privately, but if the company fails to address their concerns within a reasonable timeframe, the customer will take the next best route: making a public complaint. To avoid this, ensure that you respond to all e-mails and private messages on social media within 24 hours of receiving them.

Acknowledge all customer concerns and offer proactive solutions. Ensure that all issues are resolved before ending the conversation. Use a reference number system to make keeping track of customer concerns easier.

3. Educate yourself and your employees on sensitive issues

Discriminating other cultures, religions, and minority groups, making tone-deaf ads, hijacking important hashtags to advertise your product—all of these can get you in trouble with consumers. Ignorance is not an excuse for offensive behavior, so ensure that everyone in the business undergoes sensitivity training so they’re aware of what words, images, behaviors, etc. are considered unacceptable in this day and age and can avoid them at all costs. 

4. Admit your mistakes

Anytime your business is involved in a scandal, it helps to offer a sincere apology.

Genuine remorse shows customers that you are humble enough to acknowledge your mistake and make changes to ensure it won’t happen again. It’s best to post your apologies on all your platforms to ensure it reaches a wide audience. Don’t just stop at an apology. Take visible action to demonstrate your repentance for the wrongdoing, whether it’s firing the offending employees or temporarily suspending operations to review your policies.

Remember that as a franchise owner, you’re not operating alone. When your business takes a hit due to mistakes or other unfortunate circumstances, you should maintain communication with your parent company so they can help you resolve this in the best way possible. Remember that hiding or ignoring the problem is never the solution, so when you get negative franchise reviews or a customer posts about a bad experience on social media, face the negativity with dignity and professionalism. The mark of a good business is how they own up to their mistakes and take care of unhappy customers.

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