In Part 1 of this blog (“Corporate Blind Spots”), I discussed the link between a company’s success and its reputation (perceptions held by customers, partners, vendors and even employees). Many organizations don’t have a clear picture of how they are perceived, and these blind spots are often holding them back. Uncovering that true reputation and working to improve it are the keys to accelerating corporate success. In this blog, I’ll provide some steps that companies can take to help eliminate those blind spots.

According to a recent survey by global PR firm Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, 70% of consumers avoid buying a product if they don’t like the company behind it. That should be a big wake-up call for corporate executives. Leaders can sit in meetings for days to discuss brand-building goals, but none of that matters if the conversation isn’t based on the reality of how the company is actually perceived. We can’t map out the journey if we don’t know the starting point.

For larger companies, the solution involves doing market research and listening closely to focus groups. But what about small or mid-sized companies with little or no budget for research? Thankfully, this process doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars, and informal feedback can play a big role in keeping your brand on track.

Make a list of your top 10-20 customers. Call them. Meet them for coffee or lunch. Ask them for a “business report card.” How are we doing? What do you like? What could we do better? Encourage them to be candid. Many companies today also use a simple service like Survey Monkey to gather regular feedback from customers. A few specific questions might include:

  • How do you feel about the quality of our company’s products/services?
  • How would you describe what it’s like to work with our company?
  • How would you describe the value of our company to others?
  • What are the challenges and pain points our company most often helps you to solve?
  • Do you think our company is a good place to work? (How do you think we treat our employees?)
  • Are you aware of our company’s involvement in social/environmental/community causes?
  • How would you describe our corporate brand and what we stand for as an organization?

Whatever knowledge you uncover will guide you in the right direction as you look to make improvements for the future.

Monitoring social media is another critical step in understanding how your company is perceived. The greatest marketing campaign in the world can’t compensate for bad online buzz. When you consider the popularity of online sources like Trip Advisor and Angie’s List, it’s clear that consumers today depend heavily on the opinions of companies’ existing customers to make their buying decisions. Your business can’t resolve issues (real or perceived) if you don’t know they exist. Log on regularly and look for red flags. No matter how you gather customer feedback, just make sure it’s an ongoing process.

Once you have a realistic view of your company’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, you can use that baseline to make meaningful changes moving forward. Knowing your corporate reputation gives you a big advantage as you try to shift customers’ perceptions to more closely match the brand image you ideally want to convey. Your tactics will certainly change over time, but they’ll be infinitely more successful if your strategy is based on customer feedback that is real and current.

Yes, identifying corporate blind spots takes time and effort. But it works! Simply asking for feedback shows customers that you value the relationship, and the knowledge you uncover will direct and strengthen your brand-building efforts in surprising ways.

Has your company reached out for customer feedback in an innovative way? What were the results? I’d love to hear your success stories.