I've written several articles now talking about the need for companies to practice online reputation manage as part of their search marketing campaigns. I've also talked about how poor online reputation management can result in further harm to a company's brand. What I've not yet covered is the fact that your offline actions can also go a long way toward impacting your online reputation.

About three weeks ago I finally realized that the time had come to replace my decrepit Dell notebook. I'd only owned the Dell for about 7 months, but nearly a third of the screen had gone completely black. Since it was going to cost almost as much to replace the screen as I'd spent in the first place, I decided to just bite the bullet and buy a new laptop.

I did some hunting online and found a great deal on a mid-range Toshiba at CompUSA. The problem was that about a week after I bought the laptop, I started getting a blue screen of death. I made some calls to Toshiba tech support to try to work the issue out and was informed that it was more than likely a bad hard drive and that I'd need to wait the standard 7-10 days for service.

The problem was that this laptop is my primary work machine and I can't afford to go without it for a week. That's why I'd researched and purchased a Toshiba, because I'd read that they were generally pretty good systems. Since the computer had clearly shipped with the bad hard drive, I thought it ought to be Toshiba's responsibility to replace it. Toshiba disagreed.

My next call was to CompUSA to see if they could do anything to help me out. CompUSA has a 21 day return policy and it was now 23 days after I'd made my purchase. Nevertheless, the sales manager, Autumn, spent more than an hour working with me to arrange for a trade. Since the Toshiba that I'd purchased had been discontinued, she researched all the comparable models in the store and arranged for new rebates that would allow me to keep the free printer, router and anti virus software I'd gotten with the original laptop. She ended up working in a few discounts that would allow me to upgrade to a better laptop with a two year warranty (instead of one) for about $70. Since I'm a member of the CompUSA Network, I'd earned a $100 gift card from my first round of purchases which would more than make up the difference.

So why am I writing an article about all of this? Because Autumn's decision to go above and beyond what might be expected from a sales manager has resulted in me having such a positive image of that store that I'll be making a point to do my technology shopping at CompUSA from now on. I'll also be making it a point to tell stories about their excellent service to any other small business owner that I speak with. In fact, just by writing this article, I'm talking up CompUSA to thousands of small business owners that are looking for a store that will take good care of them.

Basically, the offline actions of a single CompUSA employee just might generate hundreds or thousands of new customers because of a single article on a single web site.

This online reputation management stuff is pretty powerful, isn't it?

Now the real question will be how CompUSA handles this issue. I'll be emailing them a link to this story with a note explaining who Search Engine Guide is and how many small business owners it reaches. Hopefully, they will reward Autumn the sales manager appropriately for getting them such great press.

Think about this when you're interacting with your customers down the line. Ask yourself how you would treat that person if you knew that they were the editor of the New York Times...of Wired.com...or even just their own blog. You never know who you are talking to or what type of reach they have. Treat every single one of your customers as if they single handedly hold the power to make or break your business and you'll find yourself finding plenty of compliments the next time you search for your company's name online.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
January 25, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > How Offline Actions Impact Online Reputation Management