No matter what part of the solar supply chain you’re in, the reality is that you are being monitored by someone. If it’s not a stock analyst, it’s an environmental group, an industry electronic bulletin board, or consumer review sites like Yelp! and Angie’s List. Or it could be a popular blog or someone on Twitter with a million or more loyal followers.
Unfortunately, the old saying that bad news travels 10 times faster and farther than good news is even more true in the age of the 24/7 world wide web and social networking.
There is nothing you can do to prevent this instant spread of information, but there are ways for your company to manage it. ::continue::
- Whatever your past mistakes or philosophies, resolve now to be a Solar boy or girl scout. In short, always maintain your company’s integrity, never lie, mislead, or bend the rules in your favor for a quick sale. If you live up to this philosophy, when you do show up on those sites–and you will–it will most likely be for a good reason, leading to more word of mouth referrals. In addition to being proactive, you must be reactive:
- Especially if you’re a retail solar installer or integrator, you should do a monthly search for mentions of your company on these consumer oriented sites. B to B companies should check professional electronic bulletin boards and the web in general. If anybody says something negative, respond on the forum and contact that person. See if you can’t make it right and post the results on original site. Track the issue until you have resolved it, especially it is from bad service.
- No matter how good your service or product is, there will always be those customers who cannot be assuaged. If the issue can’t be resolved amicably on these public sites, state this politely and reasonably. Say what you have done to make it right and that there is unfortunately nothing more that can be reasonably done to satisfy this person, but that the issue has been fixed and that it won’t happen again.
- If there is no customer that you can track down and you suspect the complaint is fake, state this on the site and why you believe this to be the case. Instead—if these comments are really unfounded—continue to encourage the complainer to contact you directly for any questions. The more reasonable you are, the less credible the fake commenter will appear. In short, be the honest, open, underdog, who is doing your best, but can’t respond to anonymous allegations. For any similar allegations under a different alias, it’s probably the same person. Repeat that calm, doing-your-best message, and see how quickly the person is dismissed. The other side of this is that if you’re wrong and the complaint is real, customers will respond to your openess and call you…and then you know you have a serious problem.
- Sales people are your company’s face. Make sure they are trained correctly and that they are honest. In the long run, a slick sales person who makes a lot of sales through unethical behavior will take away even more sales—perhaps ruin your business entirely—if this behavior is revealed on the wrong website.
- Use press releases, blog and Twitter to publicize your accomplishments and good deeds. The more positive information that is out there, the more likely customers will forgive the bad mentions, especially if you have courteously and directly addressed these issues publicly on the same site. Doing this type of PR a little bit each month adds up over time. And remember: the internet is generally permanent, so the praises and complaints will remain there. Of course, time stamps are also common, so try to be fresh and current.
- Finally, don’t deny the problem and spam the forum with fake good comments. It’s easy to tell that these comments are fakes because they’re general and overly positive. Rather, admit your mistakes and provide your solutions. Ironically, this will improve your reputation more than the fake praises.
- I’m not a lawyer, so I will not comment about threatening or threatened litigation. I’m talking here about honest customer service, not fraud or product liability.
There is a positive side to internet transparency. For example, it can reveal bad apple employees, or you can use it to learn where your customer service is lacking. Best of all is when it’s a good review, of course.
As solar becomes more commoditized, it is this type of interactive public relations and customer communication that will serve to differentiate your solar service from others. Positive world wide word of mouth will encourage new customers to choose you because they have read how you can be trusted over the ones that have been exposed for their poor service…or worse.
Tor Valenza aka “Solar Fred” is a solar PV blogger and solar communications specialist. See his RenewableEnergyWorld.com profile for contact information.