“Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself…” Cassio from Shakespeare´s Othello

One Bend, Oregon restaurant owner has discovered the severe online consequences of shoddy offline behavior.

A member of the Bend Moms Club brought her newborn to Balthazar´s, a local Mexican restaurant. Balthazar´s does not keep highchairs on the premises, ostensibly to discourage parents from bringing children. For many reasons, the woman felt mistreated during her dining experience and wrote a complaint to the owner. The owner called the woman and the conversation ended with the owner yelling obscenities at her over the phone. The woman emailed her experiences to all the members of the Bend Moms Club…one of whom included the email with commentary on her Moms Club Blog. The story then exploded…

Balthazar´s now has a serious online reputation management problem. Anyone trying to Google the address / phone number of the restaurant will be faced with multiple first page results stating that the owner is rude, obscene, and makes families with children feel very uncomfortable if they try to dine at his establishment. The fervor of the commentary is so strong that anyone perusing the Google SERPS will likely be dissuaded from dining there.

Reputation management is critical for all businesses. Even the most customer-friendly companies have likely upset a few people who have vented their frustrations on the web. However, businesses with foresight have strategies to reach out to the affected in a way that will mend the relationship and allow for future commerce to occur. Google Transit sending a Superman Cape to a blogger who had a bad experience with a map route is a classic example of how to turn a negative customer encounter into a positive one.

The effect of bad online “word of mouth” can be extraordinarily damaging to small businesses…therefore, each small business owner needs to regularly monitor what is being said about the company on the web. Receiving emailed Google News Alerts is the easiest way to learn what's being communicated. Also, it is smart to continually check the first several pages of the SERPS. If negative information shows up, do everything possible to assuage the customer and (hopefully) the negative information will go away. Certainly, don´t deliberately engage in bad behavior because the consequences can linger far beyond the actual incident.

In its community, “Balthazar´s” is now much better known for boorish behavior by its owner than for its Mexican food and it will be very difficult for that customer-focused business to generate revenue with such a reputation.

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May 4, 2007

Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association.

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