Industry Research

When Clients Attack II: How Operators Can Strike Back

Posted on March 30, 2011 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

Two media experts offer a survival guide to chauffeured transportation operators besieged by negative client publicity online. Are you prepared?

TORRANCE, Calif. — The era of social media can bring a new form of terrorism for businesses: viral slander bombs.

While not enough to dethrone the dreaded dictator Ghadaffi, these weapons can disrupt the reputation of any business with an online presence, including chauffeured transportation providers.

Incorrectly handled, these fingertip blitzkriegs of negative publicity on amateur review sites, social networks, chat rooms, web forums, and blogs can cause a business to lose valuable revenue.

The issue of combatting bad publicity received renewed attention last week when A LOUISVILLE, KY LIMOUSINE COMPANY DISCOVERED AN ANGRY BRIDE TRASHING THEIR COMPANY ONLINE after a proposed service contract fell through.

“[Getting badmouthed by clients or competitors] is a tough thing to handle,” says Arthur Messina of CREATE-A-CARD INC, based on Long Island, N.Y. “It’s hard to get things removed from the Internet once they’re posted, especially when you weren’t the one who posted them.”

When companies come under attack on the internet, there are only so many options for them to take. The best approach is to prevent such situations from happening by immediately addressing any concerns the clients have.

“If someone is in a state of mind where they’re unhappy about something, [companies need] to make every possible effort to address it right at the time that it happens,” says Eron Shosteck, president and CEO of THE MEDIA CONSULTANT GROUP. “It’s when people’s emotions are running the highest that they’re likely to use online digital rating sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, or a blog, to vent, and they may say things that are completely fabricated.

"They may have taken what was traditionally something companies would have effectively handled in private, directly with the customer, and put it in front of the digital world to see.”

Messina agrees with the preventative approach. “Don’t wait for something bad to happen,” he says. “Start promoting the good stuff, like awards and good-service testimonials.”

Companies can stack the odds in their favor by building what Messina calls a “positive bank”: a collection of positive emails, testimonials, and reviews on sites that people look at, so if something negative does come up, there is enough positive to offset the damage.

“The best way to prevent yourself from being vulnerable to slander attacks is to have an absolutely air-tight, impeccable operation that runs with professional standards that are beyond reproach,” adds Shosteck. “That makes your company libel-proof.”

“In business, you always want to stay on the positive end,” Messina says. “Anytime you do a job, whether retail or corporate, always ask for a recommendation or testimonial so you have it; whether you use it or not, it’s in your arsenal to use if need be. Video testimonials (with consent), emails, letters, and any written content are great to have in the event that you ever need to protect yourself or prove the worth of your business. It’s like saving money for unexpected circumstances.”

Messina suggests sending an email survey after every trip, with an incentive for clients to post positive reviews, i.e. a gift certificate for posting on Yelp or Google and proving it by sending you the link.

Operators want the clients that they do positive work for to post good information for them, whether it’s on Limos.com, Yelp, The Knot, or other sites.

Shosteck says that companies need to be aware of everything that’s being said about them everywhere on the Internet at all times. This involves setting up Google Alerts and RSS feeds with the names of the company and key personnel, so when something negative does happen, they can engage immediately. He recommends that companies participate in practice drills, whether it is safety or security related, or something that creates a situation that could possibly go viral.

The old maxim in public relations of “if you fight it, you ignite it” no longer holds true in the digital age, because once people post on these public forums and sites, it’s already been ignited.

Once a negative post shows up, the ideal method of engagement is to have the president, CEO, or other top officer immediately contact the client and try to rectify the situation, whether by certain incentives or deals. This demonstrates an element of concern that matters greatly to customers and can influence people to go back and remove or edit their post.

It’s far less damaging to a company — and can actually win some clients — when someone amends or edits their rant and says the company handled it well and rectified the situation. As John F. Kennedy once said, “an error is only a mistake if we fail to correct it.” Every time a company shows they’re taking an extra step to prove that customers are priority and customer-service is what guides their philosophy, their reputation gets stronger.

Transparency is an important part of business these days and is critical to a client’s perception of a responsible company.

“Companies have to [recognize] that everything that goes on in their vehicles has the potential to be on the World Wide Web,” Shosteck says. “Everything is visible, so an operator needs to say, ‘I’m going to use this opportunity to show how responsible, customer-centric, safe, and compliant every component and employee of my company is.”

— Michael Campos, LCT assistant editor

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