Two business owners working in their coffee shop on a laptop.
Whether you're trying to recover from a crisis or simply trying to revitalize interest in your brand, there are various ways businesses can boost engagement. — Getty Images/BartekSzewczyk

Mistakes happen. Maybe an employee provided less than perfect customer service. Or maybe a delivery was delayed, leading to customer complaints. A few mistakes here and there are a normal part of doing business.

However, some mistakes can do more damage than others. A data breach that reveals customer information, an offensive post shared online, or repeatedly poor customer service can crater a company’s reputation. And winning back customer trust can sometimes take more than a sincere apology.

If your business is struggling with an image problem, there are ways to fix it. Whether you’re trying to recover from a crisis or simply trying to revitalize interest in the brand, here are some steps to follow to boost customer engagement and build trust.

[Read more: Raising Pricing? Fired an Employee? Here's How to Communicate to Customers]

Assess the severity of the problem

Perhaps you’re noticing foot traffic or online web traffic is consistently decreasing, while negative reviews are going up. Or, maybe you are addressing a specific PR crisis, such as employee theft. Whether you know the source of your company’s image problem or not, you need to first discover how bad things are.

Approach this step by assessing your customer’s expectations compared to the reality of your business to meet those expectations. Also known as the reputation-reality gap, this information can help you determine what changes need to happen to regain customer trust.

Wharton marketing professor Barbara Kahn notes that clarifying the degree of brand damage can help you determine whether you take a slow-and-steady approach to reviving your brand image, or a “silver bullet” solution. If McDonald’s suddenly wanted to be associated with healthy eating, for example, it would start by emphasizing high-quality beef rather than immediately start offering smoothie bowls. “What you would do is associate McDonald’s with more nutritious offerings and slowly move the image in a believable way,” said Kahn.

Include your team members in your rebranding process to unite everyone behind your effort. Offer training in your brand standards (or refresher training if you’re sticking to your original image).

Plan your media strategy

Once you know how far you need to climb to regain customer trust, you can begin building a media strategy. This strategy will include key messaging, how you will reach out to former and potential customers, and ways you will make your communication credible.

Start with key messaging. Will you proactively issue a statement, or pull back from public view before relaunching your brand? There are, generally speaking, three options when planning your media strategy.

  • Own up:When your brand is at fault, it’s best to acknowledge and take ownership of the mistake. Customers are more likely to respect you for taking responsibility and making amends.
  • State your brand’s position: When the fault is not your own, stand by your brand. Take inspiration from Johnson & Johnson’s response to the Tylenol tampering incidents. The brand’s statement that it cared about its customers put forth the values critical to your company, rather than taking the blame and risking further damage.
  • Go on the offensive: When your brand is the victim of misinformation or disinformation, you’ll need to work with the media to reduce the damage to your brand. Work with established and trustworthy news sources to build credibility, or consider hiring a PR firm to help.

If you do decide to combat false information about your brand, consider who will be your most credible spokesperson, craft clear and straightforward messaging, and deploy user-generated content to make your message feel authentic and organic.

Start from the inside, out

Your employees are your best representatives. If they aren’t behind your image revival, no amount of marketing or PR will help your business regain customer trust. Include your team members in your rebranding process to unite everyone behind your effort. Offer training in your brand standards (or refresher training if you’re sticking to your original image).

Likewise, if you plan to redesign the customer experience, you should do the same for your employees. There’s a saying that the customer experience is only as good as the employee experience. If you want customers to love your company, offer incentives, benefits, and positive feedback to help your team members love your company.

[Read more: A Complete Business Guide to Public Relations]

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 27, 2022