Sometimes an online reputation management problem can explode into a major crisis for a company.
Sometimes a company's reputation management problems are more like the erosion caused by a great river — slowly wearing away at the bedrock until the company finds itself at the bottom of a crevice of its own making.
If you've worked hard to build a good reputation for your company, its products or services, don't foolishly squander that good reputation by undermining the foundation it was built upon — usually good quality and great customer service. The time and effort you've put into building a good reputation is an investment. Manage it well and it may make you rich beyond your dreams. Squander it and you may lose everything.
Maytag had been building its good reputation since 1907. For nearly a hundred years it had dominated the premium end of the appliance business by creating the perception — based on reality — that Maytag appliances were the most dependable on the market. For most of the last half of the 20th century that perception had been supported by an extremely successful ad campaign: the lonely Maytag repairman.
The Maytag repairman, portrayed by actor Jesse White from 1967 to 1988, sat around his workshop, lonely and bored, because Maytags were so dependable he was never needed.
Then around the turn of the 21st century, quality began to slip. Customers said Maytag washers stunk — literally. Maytag's Neptune washers suffered from a design flaw that resulted in mold growing inside the washer, which customers renamed "the stinkomatic."
Unfortunately for Maytag, its drop in quality happened at the same time its customers were first turning to the Internet to share their experiences. Word of Maytag's troubles spread quickly.
"I was washing my washer more than I was washing my laundry." — A Florida woman on consumeraffairs.com
Complaints about Maytag's quality were paired online with complaints about poor customer service. The repairman, apparently no longer lonely, left customers on hold for more than 20 minutes when they called Maytag's "Priority One Service" with problems. Most were surprised to learn that Maytag only offered a one year warranty. Potential new customers conducting research online were confronted with negative reviews, and, more important, loyal Maytag customers began shifting their business to competitors after discovering that Maytag was no longer living up to its reputation.
In 2006 Maytag was bought by Whirlpool. By 2007, it had shuttered its factory in Newton, Iowa, where the company was founded. The brand survives, but no longer enjoys the great reputation it spent years — and millions of dollars — building.
It's too bad, because no matter how much money the company saved by cutting corners, the savings could never equal the value of its former reputation as purveyor of the best, most dependable products available.
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