5 tips to protect your reputation

You know how to deal with a dissatisfied customer. But what if things get nasty? Or if you get into an argument with your customer? Even minor incidents can seriously harm your reputation. These 5 tips will help you protect your rep.

Customers could post negative messages about you on social media. Or a journalist writes a nasty article about your company. All these setbacks have the potential to harm your reputation and hurt your company. For example, your customers may leave, your turnover may drop, and employee morale may suffer. “It is crucial to know how to respond and minimise the damage”, says Marjoleine van Klaveren, consultant and partner at Rotterdam-based Bijl PR (in Dutch).

Build a reputation

Companies invest a lot of time and money in building and keeping a good reputation. They make reliable products and provide good customer service. For Van Klaveren, car maker Volkswagen is a good example of how a stellar reputation can protect you. “They were suspected of making cars with built-in ‘cheating software’. This made their cars appear more environmentally friendly than they actually were. However, their car sales did not suffer. In fact, the next year was a great year for Volkswagen. A strong brand with a good reputation is perfectly capable of taking a hit.”


Your reputation is not the same as your image. Your reputation is the sum of experiences people or organisations have with your company. Your image is how other people look at your company. An image conjures up connotations and feelings, even if people have never actually interacted with your company. Advertising and marketing are 2 powerful ways to boost your image.

Causes of reputational damage

Reputational damage is usually the result of poor performance. You might have provided sub-par services or a defective product, or people may struggle to reach you. Other causes include cybercrime and data breaches. Customers who are told that their personal information has been leaked will usually lose their trust in the company responsible. Alternatively, if they hear that you have been behaving badly, your reputation may suffer. Examples include failure to comply with environmental regulations or committing fraud (in Dutch).

Prevent reputational damage

These 5 tips will help you prevent reputational damage:

1. Invest in your staff

Staff who know what to do make fewer mistakes. Tell your employees what you expect from them. What products and services does your company offer? What is your code of conduct? Tell your staff that poor customer service harms your company’s reputation. Make sure that your employees know what they should and should not post on their private social media accounts. Make clear arrangements and document them. For example, you could ask your employees not to post things that may harm your company.

2. Communicate quickly and clearly

Protecting your reputation begins with quick and clear communication. This should be your attitude at all times, not just when a problem arises. Tell people what you are doing. “Anyone can make a mistake, and most customers will understand. However, they will quickly become less understanding if your company makes a mess of the solution and does not communicate clearly. Take complaints seriously. Reach out to the person behind the complaint, listen to them, and start a conversation. Show them that you regret the inconvenience caused and that you want to fix it. Do not fall into the trap of believing that everything will blow over. You have to act quickly”, Van Klaveren stresses.

3. Create a crisis communication plan

When a crisis strikes that may harm your reputation, it pays to be prepared so that you can respond quickly. “You should already know what channels you will use. Identify your key customers and relations and figure out how to reach them quickly.”

Write a crisis communication plan to prepare for potential emergencies and think about how to respond. “You could prepare several short standard responses, for example, that you can share through social media or when a journalist calls. If you have made the necessary preparations, you can respond the moment you get negative press.”

4. Keep calm and carry on

Think carefully about what you should do and avoid getting carried away by emotions. Van Klaveren recounts the story of an angry baker. “The baker was upset because the municipality had turned his street into a no parking zone. He noticed that customer numbers started to dwindle as a result. He could have made a scene and complained to the municipality. But he realised that complaining might not make a difference and might even hurt his reputation. I recommended the following: give everyone who is willing to risk a parking ticket a discount. It was a funny move that earned the baker an article in the local newspaper. The article focused on his discount campaign, but also gave him the chance to speak out against the no parking zone. The article garnered a lot of local support. And it was not long before the baker’s business was running smoothly again.”

5. Monitor social media

News spreads quickly on social media. As a result, complaints from dissatisfied customers can quickly become trending. And your reputation may suffer accordingly. A few tips for handling complaints on social media: 

  • Follow what people are saying about your business online. You can even use tools for this, like Google alerts or Hootsuite. These tools will notify you as soon as someone mentions your company online.
  • Respond as soon as possible. People who complain on social media expect a swift response. If you step in to solve a complaint quickly, you can prevent it from snowballing.
  • Take a personal approach and reach out by phone. Some complaints are too big or too sensitive to solve publicly on social media.