Mistake #3 in Our 5-Part Series
When it comes to your brand, reputation is everything. To build a rock-solid reputation, you need to gain your customer’s confidence. We’ve already talked about how investing in your brand and defining your market is of the utmost importance when you’re building your business, but what we haven’t yet discussed are the formal systems you need to have in place to operate your business effectively and gain your market’s trust.
At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re thinking, “what could formal systems possibly have to do with my brand?” True enough, many people think of branding as just a logo, a name, and a website. The truth of the matter is that how you operate your business has everything to do with your brand. The image you portray and the experience you provide has to match and even exceed your customer or client’s expectations.
Let’s imagine you walked into Chanel or Hermès or any other high-end boutique, looking to purchase a new handbag. You find one you like the design of in a glass cabinet and ask the employee for the price and for a closer look at the product. Now, what if the employee didn’t know how much it cost because the head office hadn’t yet updated the price list, didn’t know where the keys to the display case were because the manager was on vacation, and then proceeded to tell you that the credit card machine wasn’t working? How confident would you feel about buying something in that shop? Would you still covet the bag in the same way? Would you feel comfortable enough to continue looking around, or would you make a beeline for the door? I’d venture to guess that in this situation, more often than not, a customer would walk out, disgusted with their experience and left with a sour impression of the brand.
Whether you’re in the luxury leather goods, roofing, or project management business, organized, up-to-date formal systems matter. When I first started my company, one of my initial clients told me they hired me because I was more established than other companies they had considered. When asked for a proposal, I had a proposal template to use and a formal contract, I had my pricing structure in place, and I had a professional portfolio for their review. While other competitors in my field may have had interesting concepts and ideas, what won over my clients time and time again was that my design experience was coupled with a professionally run business they could trust.
Formal system management also extends now to communication. In our smart-phone society, many entrepreneurs feel the need to email and text at all hours of day and night. It’s easy to think, “the customer comes first,” and respond to an angry message as soon as it hits your inbox at 1:00 am. Yet, oftentimes, it is a better policy to set firm boundaries when starting new business relationships. You reply to phone messages, emails, and inquiries during your established hours of business only, and your customers can expect you to respond within 24 or 48 hours, not instantaneously. If you have employees, make sure they too are onboard with the policies you set in place. Clients will respect you more when you respond to them in a professional manner within your guidelines, not around the clock 24/7.
At the same time, transparency when establishing your work process is important. Let clients know that if the client delays a project or pays an invoice late, there will be a fee or that the anticipated deadline will have to be amended. If you have to resend files, make changes, or redo a job due to an error or omission on your client’s part, have established systems for what happens next. Such guidelines are often a working document — and you can make additions as new situations come up. The more you can plan for the inevitable ahead of time, the better prepared you will be when it happens.
I firmly believe that the strongest statement of a brand comes from the inside out. How you run your business is a powerful reflection of the brand you’re building — and the most direct way to building enduring customer confidence.
Stay tuned next week when we discuss Mistake #4 Lack of Consistency.