Lessons From a Reputational Risk Audit

Here is a recent lesson from one of our new Reputational Risk Audits that we have begun performing. The client, a financial services company, hired us to check out how their brand was being used online. They were very interested in possible risks that extend from the use of their brand and their online reputation.

We offer this service in three levels of research focus:

1. Basic web research and profiling only.

2. Inclusion of blogs and social networks.

3. Inclusion of peer to peer networks for leaking documents, pirated code, etc.

Our services look at many facets of online reputation and many mechanisms that DLP tools and the like might miss.

In this particular case, the client wanted us to focus in on the 1st and 2nd levels of our service. After a couple of weeks, we met to present our findings. There were several. I am at liberty to share one, in particular, with the public.

The client had a customer service person, we will call Sheila. Sheila had been with their organization for a little over 5 years and was considered to be a senior level customer service representative. She was very helpful and had great rapport with their customers. Unfortunately, Sheila had also recently discovered social networks and took it upon herself to create a customer support profile on a well known social media network. Her profile was linked to the brand and site of our client financial services company. Sheila did what she thought was an admirable thing and established the profile as an interface (albeit unsanctioned) for working with her customers.

Sheila was trying to do the right thing. She really wanted to use social media to talk to her customers, help them resolve their problems and truly help progress the image of the company she worked for. There were just a few issues with this approach:

1. She was asking customers confidential questions and receiving their information on a public service. This exposed the personal information of the customers to search engines, attackers and other online crimes.

2. She failed to obtain permission to use the brand of the organization she worked for and in doing so, caused harm to her customers AND the very company she was trying to help.

There are other issues as well, but these are the primary ones. Needless to say, our client was not thrilled when we detailed this for them. Talks with Sheila ensued and much discussion with attorneys, HR, regulators and eventually the customers were required. In the end, Sheila kept her position and while her management applauded her initiative and attention to the customers, she was sharply rebuked for causing the disclosures. Many customers were also furious as they were notified of the issue.

The moral of the story is that reputational risk is real. How your brand, online presence and service organization presents itself online has a huge impact on your customers, reputation and bottom line. Have you checked out your security policies around blogs, social media and/or online brand use? Have you sifted through the Internet to see what your organization looks like to the public, your customers and your employees? If you want to discuss reputational risk and how to help manage it, give us a call. We would be happy to talk you through some of the ways that you can tackle this growing issue. In the meantime, have a talk with your employees, especially customer service folks. Help them to understand that while they may want to “go the extra mile” to help their customers, they have to remain well within the boundaries of security and safe interaction. Sheila was trying to do the right thing, just like the folks on your team!

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