Your reputation as a business is a very powerful, but also very fragile thing.

Toyota has learned this the hard way. After years of building up a record of quality and safety, trust in this major car manufacturer has been completely shattered. In the last 8 years the Toyota Company has received over 2,000 reports of unintended acceleration in different vehicle models, the common link being gas pedal assembled in the same plant. Rather than do something about it while they were being investigated by the government, Toyota continued to reassure the public that their vehicles were safe, and to provide additional “reasons” for the problem. Things changed on August 28th when a call came in from near San Diego: “We’re in a Lexus … we’re going north on 125 and our accelerator is stuck … we’re in trouble … there’s no brakes … we’re approaching the intersection … hold on … hold on and pray … pray …” The call dropped, but only after hearing the sounds of a horrific accident that left all four persons in the car dead. Toyota, and the rest of the world, finally paid attention to the problem. News stories indicate that Toyota knew about these issues long in advance, but due to their corporate culture the needed action was never taken.

Your business procedures likely will not cause the loss of life, but your company’s reputation is just as fragile as Toyota’s, and once it has been damaged, it is not easily restored. The best thing you can do for your reputation is LISTEN. Apathy, complacency and denial have no place in a successful business. Sooner or later, they will all come back to bite you. Better to be cautious and attentive than pay the price for carelessness.

How can you make sure you are listening to your customers? You may want to try using customer comment cards, follow-up quality assurance calls, or a customer review section on your Web site. (There are many online survey tools, one that we like is Survey Monkey.) If the remarks are less than outstanding, take an honest look at your business practices. Identify where the problem had its start, and outline what steps you can take to correct it and prevent it from happening in the future. Also make sure and follow up with the customer, patching up any rough spots.

Your reputation is a powerful tool that must be built up and maintained over time if it is to used to the full.