The Green Sheet Online Edition
October 08, 2012 • Issue 12:10:01
The song and dance of reputation building
In 1975, the musical Chicago opened on Broadway and ran for more than 900 performances. In 1996, it reopened and has been playing on Broadway ever since, making it the longest running musical revival in history.
Anyone who has seen the show realizes that its true purpose is to showcase music and dancing. Even so, it does have a story. The plot revolves around the trial of Roxie Hart for killing her boyfriend. In jail she meets Velma Kelly, who had killed her boyfriend and sister. Both women are represented by star attorney Billy Flynn.
The premise is that Roxie wants to be a star, and not a mechanic's wife. In one song she says all will know and love her. She sings, "You will love me, and I will love you for loving me."
Billy Flynn sings about how he will defend her by "giving the old razzle dazzle. Razzle dazzle them and you will go far." Billy's defense is simple. Sure she did it, but she is not to blame. He uses the press to spread stories about "poor Roxie." Roxie even invents a pregnancy to make her seem more deserving of sympathy. She revels in the press coverage and is acquitted of the crime.
Behind the music and dancing lies a simple satire about publicity and how you can sometimes use even the worst publicity to your advantage. Roxie's goal was to spin the murder to her advantage and become a star.
She recognized that having no reputation was worse than having a questionable one. Or as Billy sings, "Razzle dazzle them and you can get away with murder."
Understanding the power of reputations
In the payments world, our reputations can drive our success or failure. What we sell can be so esoteric to our merchants that we primarily sell ourselves. The majority of long-term merchant relationships begin with the premise that we are trustworthy.
Ideally, our reputations will help with the sales process. In fact, we hope our reputations "precede us." A good reputation can - and does - lead to referrals, increased sales and higher returns.
However, even those with the best reputations encounter people who think their reputations are inflated. After all, you can't please all the people all the time. In essence, it's typically an "either or" situation. The only option is to have no reputation, and the difficulties this creates in sales far outweigh having one. The premise is simple: Do what you can to grow a good reputation and nurture it.
Risk communication specialist Dr. Peter M. Sandman provides four premises regarding this topic:
- Your reputation consists of two variables:
a. How loved you are (which is virtually unrelated to how hated you are)
b. Companies (and individuals) are both much-loved and much-hated.
- Increasing your positive reputation has some payoff.
- Decreasing your negative reputation has a lot more payoff, and no downside.
- Responding to controversies or reputational crises by reminding angry stakeholders of prior good acts is irrelevant; outraged people want you to address their concerns, not tout past virtues.
In a nutshell, we should think about how we define ourselves and how we can have the greatest positive impact on our businesses. This means asking the following questions:
- How do we build a good reputation?
- How do we continue to increase it?
- How do we decrease our negative reputation?
Building and enhancing your reputation
Fellow MLS Forum member CCNJ offered a simple approach: "I tend to under-promise and over-deliver so that my clients don't expect something of me that I may not otherwise be able to control."
Your actions are the foundation of your reputation. As 1SLICK67 commented, "I always do what I say I am going to do, even if it will cost me money in the short run." LADERA BUSINESS SOLUTIONS added, "If you give your word, stand by it. Treat everyone you deal with the way you want to be treated."
Follow this simple mantra:
- Always tell the truth, no matter how painful it is.
- Respect yourself, and others will respect you.
- Character is king; your reputation is derived from it.
Although it might be easier to fudge the truth, or even dance around it, remember that in almost every case, the truth will come out. If you are working to build or increase your reputation, one lie will do more damage than one deal lost because of absolute honesty.
There can be no positive reputation without trust. And trust derives from character. The late college basketball coach John Wooden defined character best: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."
Entrepreneur Warren Buffet said it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. Benjamin Franklin believed it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad deed to ruin it. Both statements are true.
1SLICK67 said, "If you treat a merchant well, they will tell 10 others about you. If they think you did them wrong, they will tell everyone they can."
Yet even if we are aware of our actions and work hard to maintain a sound, positive reputation, things outside of our control can easily impact it and create negative repercussions. For example, over the past two years there have been two major data security breaches. Sure, the companies themselves took the brunt of the negative publicity, but all who sold for them were affected as well.
In both cases, these companies recognized the difficulties they and their representatives faced. How they responded varied, but the basic premise was the same: acknowledge the breach, address the potential consequences, correct any cause of the issue and advise how you are taking steps to avoid the situation in the future.
Merchant level salespeople (MLSs) were faced with greater challenges. The media was negative and unrelenting. Since the issues were so complicated, merchants struggled to understand what risk they faced, if any. How MLSs handled these situations went a long way toward avoiding serious damage to their reputations.
The successful ones immediately opened lines of communication with merchants and raised the issue before others did. They explained the situation in layman's terms and described how they would help those who were directly affected. They then stayed in constant contact.
How they handled the situation took priority over future sales. This step was probably very frustrating for MLSs, but if the breach had not become their top priority, the number of merchants lost and the damage done to their reputations would have far outweighed any benefits from signing new customers.
Monitoring attacks, gossip
There are also times when others attack our reputations in an effort to build up their own. These attacks can be direct or indirect, and may be subtle or outright. They are not always based on fact, but will imply a negative either way. In most cases, you may not even be aware of the attack before it's too late. That's why you should monitor your reputation.
CCNJ has a plan. "I closely monitor my personal reputation, as well as my company's, using Google Alerts and other alerting systems. They are really great tools to help monitor who's talking about you online. Offline conversations are a bit different, but I've had people call me and say they were speaking with so and so, and they thought I should know what was said about me."
Google Alerts will send you a notice whenever anything is posted in reference to your designated topic. Once you set up the alerts, you will receive emails listing all notices that have been posted, with links to each one. The beauty of Google Alerts is that you're made aware of electronic comments. However, CCNJ 's second step is just as critical as the first. She builds a relationship with her clients so they feel free to contact her whenever any concern or comment is made about her and her company.
No matter how much effort you put into monitoring electronic comments, you must also have sources to pass along what is being said about you on the street. The best sources of this information are your merchant partners. Remember, they won't likely volunteer this information unless you encourage them to do so. As you gain their trust by being open and honest, you will find they are more likely to speak up when someone says anything negative - either directly or implied - about you or your company.
Staying above the fray
The last step in controlling your reputation involves how you discuss other companies. Simply put, you can't expect competitors to respect you if you talk badly about them. CCGUY's approach is common among those who follow this guideline. "When people ask me about other companies, this is what I tell them, 'I can only tell you what our company can do for you.' I tell them how we handle customer service and extra services, that we are their consultant, and that we are here for them. 'What other companies can do or can't do, I have no idea.'"
Merchants will respect your position. Those who choose not to follow this simple approach often find they are tarred by the same brush, meaning they hurt their own reputations when they attempt to damage the standing of competitors.
This is where the Golden Rule comes into play: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Otherwise your negative comments are sure to come back and bite you because they will chip away at your once strong reputation - one by one. Then you'll be attempting to tap dance as fast as Billy Flynn.
Jeff Fortney is Vice President, ISO Channel Management with Clearent LLC. He has more than 17 years' experience in the payments industry. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972-618-7340. To learn about how Clearent can help you grow faster and go further, visit www.clearent.com.
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