Reputation is a business’s most important intangible asset. Values are a key piece of business because employees need to handle important decisions in the heat of the moment. All it takes is one harsh word or poor decision and a small action can become a public relations nightmare. What many cannot see is that trust is a valuable asset in a business’s balance sheets. Consumers have to trust businesses. Without trust, a business will not succeed. Trust means that businesses can more quickly bring products to the market and maneuver around regulatory hurdles, such as increased taxes.
Risk is everywhere, and leaders have to safeguard their organization’s reputation. The banking crisis and fall of Enron were as much ethical issues as they were business failures. People are naturally un-trusting of businesses, and information is quickly shared in the digital age, which means that the “court of public opinion” is always out. Leaders need to cultivate relationships with consumers, address their concerns, and take the time to manage their companies’ reputations. As a start, businesses need to close the reputation gap. Such a gap occurs when there is a difference between what an organization promises and what it delivers. At heart, a brand is a promise to the public. Consumers are vocal when they feel mislead or betrayed by a company, and this can greatly damage a business’s reputation.
Some experts estimate that a brand or image can be up to one-third of a company’s value. Leaders need to make sure that they can deliver on promises and understand how to manage crises and situations as they arise. Promising too much without being able to deliver will only disappoint employees and consumers alike.
Businesses do not always understand how to measure intangible assets like relationships. However, this does not make them less important. Relationship audits mean identifying how consumers and other stakeholders feel about a business. One can use the Internet to find out what people are saying about an organization, or could even bring in clients.
Leaders should get their hands dirty. For example, Tom Hughes-Hallett, CEO of Marie Curie Cancer Care, took the time to work in caring services for a year to better understand patients’ needs. He soon realized that the organization had become too detached from clients’ needs. Nurses thought they knew best and were not listening to what the patient wanted or needed. Hughes-Hallett would not have known this if he had not taken the time to experience the external world.
If financial audits are about profits and past performance, then relationship audits are about predicting future performance. Paying attention to consumers’ needs helps a business deliver results and maintain important relationships. After all, it is the customer experience that truly brings any vision to life.
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