4 Ways to Prevent Brand-Damaging Communications Between Employees and Customers

For anyone that conducts business online, brand image is paramount. When it comes to success as an online business, you can’t rely on a positive face-to-face experience to impress your clients and customers.

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In light of the importance of brand image, you can and should take steps to protect your brand from misuse and user-generated content (UGC) mishaps. Guarding your brand against misuse by employees, contractors, and consumers alike, and the consequent damage that misuse can do to your reputation and bottom line should be the top priority.

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Tips To Prevent Brand-Damaging Communications

Let’s look at 4 ways to effectively prevent brand-damaging communications between employees and customers.

1. Protect Your Brand From Slandering Comments

15 years ago, a customer who was dissatisfied may have simply asked for a refund. But in today’s marketplace, a disgruntled customer may turn to social media or online forums to complain. And a customer is not always right!

Your brand has the right to defend itself against unwarranted, public customer complaints and maintain your reputation. To minimize damage to your brand’s image, refute any false claims in a professional manner.

You can do so by acknowledging what your brand has allegedly done wrong and
clarifying any misunderstandings. This can include referencing terms, conditions, or return policies on social media, depending on the product or service in dispute.

If the complaint was on social media, then you can also take to that channel to respond to the customer. Even if your brand is clearly not at fault, a simple “We’re very sorry for the misunderstanding” can go a long way in presenting your brand as one that handles conflict with class. To mitigate damage, publicly emphasize that your brand is committed to listening to all customer feedback.

Anyone can post their opinions on social media, not just customers. An employee who is careless with their social media activity or uses social media to express their employment dissatisfaction can be just as harmful to your brand.

In the case of employees, protect your brand from social media misuse by including a thoughtfully crafted, lawful social media policy in your employee handbook. It should apply to the brand’s social media accounts and employees’ personal accounts.

When it comes to subcontractors, minimize legal risks by ensuring that their social media content upholds your brand’s integrity and reputation. For example, if your business offers a delivery service where your subcontractor and customer can communicate with one another, make it clear in contracts that posting a photo of a customer’s property, sharing communications that happened on your platform, or engaging in incendiary communications is grounds for termination of the contract.

Keep in mind that as an employer, you only have so much power over what employees say and where. Whether they’re griping on Twitter or at the water cooler, complaints about management and working conditions are regarded as “concerted activity,” which is protected by federal labor law, so long as employees are participating in a dialogue with one another. Attacks on an employer that are not related to employment terms and conditions, however, can be a legal basis for termination (for example, using a derogatory statement to describe the CEO).

2. Create A Safe Shopping Experience

Shopping apps for grocery delivery have grown in popularity against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, accelerated by CDC recommendations to “Order food and other items online for home delivery or curbside pickup (if possible).” While this is good news for online shopping and delivery companies, the pandemic itself means that companies have an unprecedented responsibility to keep customers and shoppers safe.

To create a safe shopping experience for customers and employees alike, develop a COVID-19 response plan following CDC business guidance. Instruct employees or subcontractors to wear a face mask at all times, maintain a distance of six feet or more from others while shopping and making deliveries, and stay home if they are sick.

Develop policies and technology options that enable touchless payment and offer contactless deliveries such as no-signature, no-knock, and curbside pickup of orders.

From grocery delivery services like Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect to local grocery stores, online shopping, online grocery ordering, and home delivery options are more popular than ever. According to a recent RBC Capital Markets survey, 55% of respondents had purchased groceries online, up from 15% in 2015 and 36% in 2018.

When a personal shopper starts working to fill these online orders, the customer can often receive texts or can chat with their shopper. The shopper can typically send a photo of a possible replacement item they are picking out for the customer’s approval.

But what’s stopping an employee or gig worker from sending the customer an inappropriate photo instead? On the other hand, what’s stopping a “hangry” customer whose food order was canceled, for instance, from sending a gig worker an inappropriate photo or offensive message.

It’s important to recognize that involving the gig workforce has benefits, but comes with increased risk of offensive or harmful communications. This is in part due to patterns of higher turnover, fast training, and less accountability associated with gig subcontractors.

To protect your brand against such risk, make sure that subcontractors (or employees for that matter) can’t send a photo or message to a customer without moderation. Offensive messages cannot be stopped without pre-moderation, so seek the professional services of a company that can provide the necessary checks and balances. Conversely, it's equally as important to protect your subcontractors, ensuring that all UGC sent by customers is checked before it reaches them.

3. Use A Comprehensive Profanity Filter To Catch Offensive Content

In 2015, various Comcast customers received bills addressed to “A-hole Brown” and “Super B---h” after attempting to cancel portions of service or having billing problems. It’s been a few years since Comcast’s customer billing debacle, but the incident still offers a valuable lesson on preventing customer communication mishaps.

It goes without saying that employees should be trained to professionally handle any customer disputes. But to prevent customer service reps from generating bills with questionable content or reacting offensively, put technology in place that will block certain combinations of names.

Use a system that can differentiate between actual names that contain an offensive word like “Bass” and intentional, offensive words. And prevent employees from changing names to certain offensive words by implementing a comprehensive block list (as Comcast did).

Create a list that includes words that are overtly offensive, as well as less obvious misspellings and variations. Additionally, take this prevention a step further by requiring that a manager be called in to approve changes in the case of false positives.

With its customer base of over 27 million, using a list downloaded from the web was not sufficient protection for Comcast, and it likely won’t cut it for your business either. To prevent customer billing “mistakes” all together and thoroughly protect your brand, seek out a profanity filter that is more than just a simple block list.

Look for highly proficient, accurate profanity filtering technologies that feature custom block & allow lists, support for multiple languages, the ability to scan text embedded in images, and other safety measures so that your brand is protected in a more comprehensive way.

The pandemic has led to financial difficulties for many individuals, and some may need to cancel services as a result. Customer service disputes may be justified during such trying times, but your brand can prevent customer communication mishaps by protecting employees from antagonistic customers and customers from disgruntled employees.

Moderate In-App Chat Communication

Let’s say that you have a company that offers in-app chat for communication between a mobile subcontracted workforce and users, such as a ride service hailing company. Imagine that a user is waiting at the curb for their ride to arrive. They can see on the app that the car is hardly moving. They then use in-app chat to send a message to find out what the problem is. But for whatever reason, they communicate this rather inappropriately.

Your driver-partner got stuck in traffic on their way to the pick-up spot, which the user is not aware of. The driver then receives a message through the app asking “Where the EXPLETIVE are you?!” Frustrated, the driver replies with an equally as nasty message.

This can be brand damaging, but it can also be prevented. Making it clear in your contracts that your brand’s partners are prohibited from freely texting or sending a photo to a customer is a start. But if you stop there, your brand is still at risk.

Introducing real-time profanity filtering and content moderation on both sides can help you avoid this, and protect the credibility and recognition your brand worked hard to earn. Content moderation will protect your brand from misuse by both employees and consumers that could otherwise damage your reputation and your bottom line.

When selecting a partner to handle your content moderation, trust your brand with an experienced content moderation company rather than a crowdsourced worker. The danger in crowdsourcing is that everyday individuals are assigned the task of approving or rejecting content uploaded by your users.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that crowdsourced workers will moderate according to your brand’s standards and catch false positives or negatives. And there’s little stopping them from stealing your brand’s images or distributing your content online on platforms that are not in line with your brand’s values.

Involve experts in the moderation process instead of tasking crowdsourced moderators who, in some cases, are anonymous, generally untrained, and unaccountable to protect your brand. For the highest level of protection, look for a content moderation company offering efficient profanity filtering technologies that feature moderation of in-app chat among employees/ subcontractors and customers.

WebPurify suggests asking the following questions of any prospective content moderation partner to ensure that a qualified partner is chosen.

Conclusion

Warren Buffett once said that “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

It takes time to build a brand image that creates recognition, cultivates trust, gives you equity, and reinforces credibility. By taking steps to prevent brand-damaging communications between employees and customers, you can protect your brand’s reputation and your bottom line.