#53 – The importance of offline and online reputation congruence

#53 – The importance of offline and online reputation congruence

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Does your business operate online and offline? Try not to let your reputation be Jekyll and Hyde.

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • We look at examples of how businesses have split reputation personalities due to operating online and offline.

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  Thank you for joining us. We have an exciting show this week. We’re going to focus on one particular topic. Erin and I have been talking about the importance of having some congruence between your online channels and your offline channels, because there shouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between your online reputation and your offline reputation. That’s something that we’ve discussed before, but we thought we’d go into more detail today. Erin has a really good example that she went through, so she’s going to share that, and then we’re going to dive in.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, thanks Andy. We recently decided to put in a massive garden at our house, and I know very little about gardening, so we’ve been doing a lot of online ordering at Home Depot, and then going in and doing in-store pickup. Basically, my husband will put an order together of everything we need, and when I’m out and about, I go grab it. It seems pretty simple, right?

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  Well, the last three times we’ve put in orders, we’ve gotten a confirmation email, and they say, “We’ll notify you when your order is ready,” and then you go grab it. I’ve gotten notification that my order is ready. I get to the store. I go to the pickup desk and tell them I’m there to pick up my order, and I get complete deer in the headlights stare. The last three times, the order hadn’t even been picked. One time before that, they tried to give me an order that wasn’t mine, just because one item was the same thing.

Erin Jones:                  You know, it’s really frustrating for me, because they made the online experience so simple and streamlined, and then completely dropped the ball, when you get to the local store. I asked one of the desk agents. I just said, “Does this email automatically go out after a certain amount of time? Is that why I’m getting an email saying it’s ready, even though you guys haven’t been able to catch up?”

Erin Jones:                  She said, “No, we have to trigger that email,” and then again, nothing. It’s been a little bit frustrating. I have to give them credit. Every time this has happened, they’ve scrambled and gotten my things together quickly, but in the same amount of time, I could’ve gone and picked all of those items myself. It defeats the purpose of making my life easier, when I’m traveling with small children and things. It just really got me thinking about how you can have a great online experience, and if the in-store experience isn’t just as great, it completely devalues your brand, or vice versa.

Andy Beal:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, because Home Depot is a brand that resonates with a lot of folks, especially me, as a place where I go out to on a weekend with a shopping cart, a literal shopping cart, and pick out the items that I need, and then pay for them, and then pile them in the back of the car and go home. I wonder whether or not they’re so used to that, that they’ve dived into the online space, but are still trying to play catch-up in terms of offering that excellent experience that you get, because you walk into a Home Depot store, somebody hands me a shopping cart and asks me if I need help with anything, and I’ve only taken a few feet inside the store. Yet, here you are, placing an online order, which comes across as a similar kind of experience, but a complete disconnect between their offline and online retail experience.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. Everyone, like I said, they’ve been friendly. They’ve taken care of things, but the right hand is not communicating with the left at all. They don’t know how the system works. They don’t understand what the process looks like, so I’m sure they’re also frustrated with the system, because they’re getting frustrated customers, and they don’t really understand what’s happening.

Erin Jones:                  This is a great example of really letting your employees in on the secrets. How does this work? What’s going on? What can be expected when it happens? It really brings in that whole continuity and consistency. I feel like we talk about that a lot, how critical it is in managing a reputation, both online and in person, and there’s a huge disconnect here.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, and I think also there is a … The size of your company dictates how well automated this process is. Home Depot, obviously a large company. I know that Best Buy doesn’t always have the best experience, but certainly whenever I’ve bought something online, and I wait for that notification that it’s ready to pick up, I go in. I go to a special desk, and they grab it, and I’m out the door really fast. They’ve done a really good job with that experience, probably because they’re more high tech than maybe Home Depot.

Andy Beal:                  Then, I think that a lot of small companies have to be aware that if they offer any kind of online ordering, even if it’s a simple email form where they request a specific bouquet of flowers to be ready or something like that, you have to keep in mind that when people shop online, they have a super fast expectation of just receiving the email, confirming the order, getting confirmation that it’s shipping, and even the shipping speed. I think a lot of that is, well, let’s talk about a little bit Amazon, because Amazon has configured us all to expect super fast shipping and super fast shipping speeds. I think that’s set the mindset for a lot of customers that, whenever they do anything online, they’re expecting that offline.

Andy Beal:                  Then, for small businesses, you’ve got to connect. How do you treat your customers when they do come into your physical store, your physical location. You’re usually really friendly, quick to help. You’ll run around, pick out the product for them, show them where to go. They have that, especially if they know you and they shop with you, they have that and expect that same kind of experience. They have that mindset that they’re going to get that same experience online, and often companies just are disjointed. They don’t have that connection.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely, and sometimes it goes in reverse with small businesses. You get a great in-store experience, and then you message them on Facebook and get a very seemingly surly, two-sentence reply, because they may not be as well-versed technologically. It’s that middle piece right there that, whatever you’re giving them online, you need to be giving them offline, as well.

Erin Jones:                  I had a really great experience this morning, actually. I was in a local Facebook group, and there was a mobile auto detailer that was offering a special, so I messaged them and said, “Hey, I’m going on a road trip in a couple days, and I would love it if you guys could get me in. I know this is last minute.” They contacted me via text message immediately, and the voice that they spoke to me in personally was exactly the same as the voice that they used in the public forum. It was just really nice, because I felt like I was talking to the same person through the whole experience. I’m guessing that’s going to be exactly the same when they show up.

Erin Jones:                  It can be done. It’s being done really well by a lot of brands. I just think that we’ve got to be really mindful of making sure that that experience has that continuity all the way through the process.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, there’s a number of things here. First of all, provide that same level of support. I think that a lot of people will … They sign up for all the social media channels, and then they get an inquiry, but they just basically bunt it and just say, “Hey, call us,” and they don’t want to interact with you on Twitter or Facebook. They just want you to call them.

Andy Beal:                  I think a lot of companies, big or small, need to realize that just because there’s a popular social media channel doesn’t mean that it’s something that you need to engage with. For example, if somebody were trying to reach me on Snapchat, trying to reach one of my companies on Snapchat, that’s never going to reach me. I’m never going to know because, yeah, it’s a popular social network, but it’s not popular with my audience. Don’t just sign up for everything just because you want to secure it. If you’re not going to be active there, because your customers are not generally active there, there’s no point having a presence there. Stick to the channels where they will engage with you. If it’s Twitter, you’re active on Twitter. If it’s Facebook and you’ve got a group that you’re a part of, be on Facebook.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. Something you said caught my attention there. You said, if you’re not there, that there’s not going to be engagement there. If the bulk of your audience is somewhere that you’re not, you may want to consider getting there-

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely.

Erin Jones:                  Or getting someone who’s well-versed in that arena to help you there.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, and then that’s why we talk about the centers of influence, because you’ve got to find where are your potential customers? Where are your existing customers? That’s where you need to be. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Twitter or Facebook, if they are, in fact, on Snapchat, if they are on LinkedIn. In fact, I was browsing through a bank’s website today, and they ask you to connect with them on LinkedIn to get updates, which is really rare, because most people will promote Twitter or Facebook, but this was for a business bank that probably understood that it’s more likely to connect and engage with prospects and customers via LinkedIn than it is by Facebook or Twitter.

Erin Jones:                  Right. I would love to see how they’re executing that. I think that this always comes back to your employees. If you’re giving them the tools that they need to interact with your audience, it’s going to be a great experience for everyone. If you’ve only … Especially with small businesses, if the owner and only the owner is trying to run a business, manage the social media, handle the customer service, it can be too much, and it can be really draining. If you’re not enjoying those interactions, it comes across to the customer.

Erin Jones:                  Give your employees an opportunity to help you out, and if your employees are not equipped to do that, bring in a professional. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring someone to help you figure out how to either navigate those channels or how to interact with your audience, so that you’re conveying the same personality or persona for your brand in any channel that you’re on.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, it used to be that hiring somebody to handle your online customer service was optional or at least considered optional, but now it’s an integral part of your business. You have to have somebody that engages online with potential customers in the same manner, the same tone, the same level of support as you provide offline. You’ve got to provide that congruence there, too. Now, do you have to hire somebody that only does that. The answer is no.

Andy Beal:                  I like the E-myth Revisited way of looking at this, and that is, your company has different roles, different hats for people to wear. Now, if you, as the owner, can wear the hat that provides online customers support, that’s great, but you’ve got to put it on. It doesn’t sit there and gather dust. Now, if you grow enough, and you see a lot of engagement online, and you then decide to hire somebody specific, that’s fine. You then hand that hat to them and let them do it. The key thing is here, somebody has to do online engagement, because even if you are just a brick and mortar store, you’ve got to realize that most people will research you online. There may be people complaining online. There may be people sharing great reviews on Google or Yelp, and so you have to have that engagement. You have to be there. It’s no longer something that’s optional depending on how much business you do online. Your business is online.

Erin Jones:                  Definitely. Now, let me ask you your opinion on something, Andy.

Andy Beal:                  Yep.

Erin Jones:                  I see a lot of split, especially with incredibly large brands. I mean, we all know that one person cannot handle all of Amazon’s customer service. That would be ridiculous to expect that. If you were consulting a brand, and they wanted to know if they should use one consistent voice or persona on their social media channels for responding to customers, or if you would rather have them have each employee have their own personality, but sign off on every response, what do you think is better for a brand?

Andy Beal:                  If they need it, then the latter, because your goal would be to start it a lot earlier than that. You’re looking to hire people and educate and train people to share in the corporate voice. What’s the style? Is it fun? Is it funky? Is it serious? Is it professional? Is it lax?

Andy Beal:                  I mean, whatever that voice is you have as a company, you’re looking to bring on people that share that excitement, share that voice, or at least get some sort of training from you, as to that’s what you expect. Then, you let all the different employees have the option to help. I’m of the mindset that I’d like to see more companies just say, “Hey, look. If you happen to be sitting at your computer with your feet up at nine o’clock at night, and you see someone ask a question, and you know our official support is closed, because it’s a holiday weekend, and you know the answer, go ahead and chime in. We’d love you to do that on a personal basis, because that provides great support.” You know that that person is part, shares somewhat in the company voice.

Andy Beal:                  I would rather them not keep it confined to a single person and say, “Okay, it’s your responsibility. Nobody else touch this.” However, if they’re a very small company, they don’t have a lot of interaction, then, yeah, sure, it’s just one person’s responsibility, and you rely on them, but, yeah, if they grow, I like the idea of letting different personalities come through, but with the understanding, not the policing. I’m not a fan of social media handbooks and policies that says you can or cannot say this, but just with the general guideline of, hey, this is the kind of personality we’re trying to build, the type of customers we attract, and then just let them interact.

Erin Jones:                  I love that. I personally trust brands more when I see employees being themselves. When people are being friendly, and they feel free to chime in and answer something, and they’re not afraid that they’re going to get in trouble or something like that, I really feel like that’s a more of a brand family than the typical corporate, “You’re here when you’re here, and when you’re not, you don’t get to do anything.” I think that’s a great response.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, people … I think generally online, people would rather just hear from somebody quickly than rather hear from somebody professionally hours later. If you think about when you walk into a store and you ask a question or you need help, it’s rare that you’re going to wait until you can walk up to the manager, unless it’s a complaint, but you’re just going to ask somebody. It could be the person that’s sweeping the floor out back that’s really helpful and just points you in the right direction. I think that that should translate online, as well.

Andy Beal:                  Now, if you have a crisis, you still may have some initial interaction, but whether it’s online or offline, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry that happened to you. Let me have you speak to the manager, so that you can get that resolved. He should be here, or he should be online, within the next hour,” whatever the timescale is. You just still have that initial interaction, if it’s a crisis and it needs to be deferred to somebody, but I think there should always be some compassion at the outset, regardless who it is.

Erin Jones:                  I love that, and I think it gives so much more personality to the brand. This is a really rudimentary example, but it’s how … I don’t know if you have Chick-fil-A in your area, but when you walk in and everyone is smiling, and everyone is “have a nice day-ing” and “my pleasure-ing,” and telling you that they want you to have a wonderful day and smiling at you, it’s just really nice.

Andy Beal:                  That, yeah, absolutely.

Erin Jones:                  You feel welcome, and I just love that. I feel like, not to pick on Home Depot, because I do feel like they are very much that way in store, and I feel like they are very much that way online, there’s just a link missing in the chain.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, yeah. One other thing that I wanted to talk about and recommend is I see a lot of disparity, in terms of promotional offers and pricing from stores that have an online presence and an offline presence. You really need to try and bring the two together. You need to combine the pricing and homogenize it so that it’s not more expensive one place or another.

Andy Beal:                  Let me give an example. I went into Walgreen’s just yesterday. I looked up a product online, and it was $11.99, $12.99, something like that. I thought, oh okay, that’s good. I walked into the local store, because I knew I was going to pass it, and it was $19.99. Would they have price-matched it? I don’t know, but you know what? I was thinking to myself, oh my gosh, I am not going to go through the next 15 minutes, while the employee figures out where the price is online. Can they price-match it? What do I have to prove? It should’ve just been the exact same price.

Andy Beal:                  That’s definitely something I see a lot of companies, where they’ll have an online promotion, and it’s this price, or … Costco, big fan of Costco. They have great customer service, in general, and great shipping policy, ship to store, easy returns, and all of that. Yeah, I bought a shirt there yesterday for $20, went online, and it was $14.99. I’m like, uh, this is creating a negative experience. Why are you doing this?

Erin Jones:                  Right, and it’s not enough of a discrepancy that it’s worth your time to get in your car and drive to the store and show them your phone and show them your receipt to get your $4 back, but it’s really irritating.

Andy Beal:                  And if they add up, those irritations chip away at their reputation, so you’re absolutely right. If it was half the price, ah, that’s a big deal. I’m going to be upset. If it’s just $2 or $3 here or there, it’s just, ah, it’s not enough, but if that happens on a regular basis, it’s just chipping away at their good reputation, and they need to be wary of that.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, not only their reputation, but their trust. The whole feeling … You know, one of the reasons that people love Costco so much is that trust, and if people stop feeling that way, then the loyalty is going to fall off.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, and then on the flip side of this, there are companies that do a great job with … You can earn their store cash promotion or a coupon or something like that. Sometimes it’s only valid in-store, but there are companies that know that they have valuable shoppers online, as well as those that come into the store, and so whether you make your purchase online or in-store, you get their cash that you can redeem either place. What comes to mind … The Gap store does a really good example of this with their Gap Cash. I’ve seen … Kohl’s does it, too. There’s some others, where it doesn’t matter where you earn it. You can redeem it either online or offline.

Erin Jones:                  Right, and it’s all one company, so I don’t understand more why places don’t do that.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, no, there are definitely some that it’s limited to either online or offline.

Erin Jones:                  Yeah, the best is when you go into the store and tell them that you saw this deal online, and they say, “Well, that’s because they want you to buy it online. We can’t do that here.”

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  You know, no effort, no explanation. That’s a really good way to get me on a rant.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah, absolutely. We won’t go through that, but we’ll just … We’ll end it with a lesson that really there should be a combination between your brands. You should not … Just as you cannot have a personal brand and a corporate brand, you can’t have an offline brand and an online brand. Your reputation spreads across both, and so you need to make sure that you offer the same type of experience. If one is more extreme than the other, then you may need to figure out how you can tone it down on one end, so that you can still offer the same experience for both, whether they shop online or offline. What are your final thoughts, Erin?

Erin Jones:                  I completely agree, and I don’t think we should limit this just to retail brands. Consultants, if your customers meet a version of you online, and then you show up to their office, and you’re completely different in person, that throws everybody off their game. It messes with the trust. Really, it all goes back to that authenticity. Empower your employees. Be authentic. Yeah, just make sure that people are conveying the message that you want them to see.

Andy Beal:                  Absolutely. Well, we hope you found that useful. If there’s a specific topic that you would like us to discuss or provide advice on, please go to our Facebook page, which is facebook.com/andybealORM, or you can go to andybeal.com, find the latest podcast, and just leave a comment. We’d love to get your feedback. We’d love to get your advice, anything that you do that you think is valuable, or if you have a question that you’d like us to answer, we’d love to hear from you, as well. We will be back again soon. Erin, thank you for joining me, as always.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you, so much, for having me.

Andy Beal:                  Thank you, guys, for listening. We’ll hope you tune in again next time. Thanks a lot, and bye-bye.

ByAndy Beal

Andy Beal is The Original Online Reputation Expert™. A bestselling author of two critically-acclaimed reputation management books, a keynote speaker at dozens of events, and brand consultant experience with thousands of individuals and companies.