Building Reputational Capital: An Off-Topic Post for Your Saturday

Today I'm going to use our blog to do something that everyone always asks us to do: give free business advice. buildingrepcapReputational Capital

One of the single best business books that I have ever read is called Building Reputational Capital: Strategies for Integrity and Fair Play that Improve the Bottom Line. According to the book, reputational capital is essentially built-up goodwill that a company develops in its relationship with clients, customers and members of the general public. Reputational capital is intangible, but incredibly valuable for any business -- particularly those in the service industry. Reputational capital is a fancy term, but it's something that we all have with just about every brand we interact with.

For example, reputational capital is the reason why you still go back to your favorite restaurant even after you have one experience with a bad server, or still shop at one of your preferred online boutiques that sent the wrong item. These companies have built up enough capital with you over the course of your business relationship that you still have trust in them. You may not have the same level of trust, but you have enough confidence to know that you can go back or try again. On a large scale, reputational capital is why companies like BP, Tylenol and others have been able to weather storms over the years.

Reputational Capital in Practice

When we decided to offer up our apartment to host Turkey Day with friends, we were excited to learn that a catering company in Florence was offering premade dinners. With an 8 week old at home it seemed like a fantastic option. We had never heard of one of the two companies offering the dinner, but the second one (which I refer to as Company A) is one of our favorite spots for coffee and sweets. We had enough reputational capital with this company to place an order for seven.

I don't think I'm surprising anyone when I say things did not go as planned. While the food ended up tasting delicious, the amount of food delivered was not nearly enough for seven. The items delivered were also oddly inconsistant -- an adequate amount of peas and apple sauce, but barely enough stuffing for two. The numbers "1" and "7" look similar in how they are commonly written over here, so we thought OK, maybe this is the problem. Rob took the bag of food to Company A for an explanation. They put him in touch with Company B (who produced about 95% of the meal). No mistake had apparently been made. We had to go all Oliver Twist on them to get an additional delivery of two items. And, when it showed up, things were not so smooth. Conversations about Italian vs. British vs. American proportions ensued.

Long story short, we ended up having to make more food to compensate. Lucky for me, Rob makes delish potatoes (I love my Indiana boy). I made biscuits. Our guests brought a wonderful carrot side dish. We made it work. But, the whole experience was so stressful and the extra cooking so exhausting that two days later I'm finally up for doing anything besides snuggling in bed and watching movies. Life with a 2 month old is no joke -- a little extra activity and BAM you're cooked for days.

OK, on to our business lessons...

Business Lesson #1: Over-Deliver to Your Core Audience

One of the most shocking things for me is this: expats in Florence are one of the only groups with expendable income at the moment. In many cases, the expat Americans have a lot of expendable income. Thus, offering Thanksgiving dinner was a brilliant way to impress a ton of current and potential customers at once. When you are given a reputational opportunity such as this, you always need to overdeliver. We tell this to clients all the time. Have a booth at a conference targeted directly to your audience? Do something spectacular. Invited to give a presentation to a group that includes three of your dream business prospects? Figure out a way to make it the most exceptional they've ever seen.

This is a really important lesson in this situation because, as I mentioned, the food itself was quite good. It may have been some of the best stuffing I've ever had. If this company had even met (but preferably exceded) my expectations they would have had an immense amount of reputational capital with me. I would've emailed a friend that hosted a wonderful, catered party last week and whole-heartedly recommended this company for future events. I would've jumped on board any future events Company B catered. See how one adjustment in your product/offering delivery can have a huge impact? The responsbility falls on you, not the customer to make the experience exceptional.

Case in point: Last Thanksgiving we went to Il Barone. That meal was amazing. I happen to know for a fact that they barely broke even, but guess what? We've been back at least 5 times and recommended it to friends.

Business Lesson #2: Response is Everything

How you/your company reacts to a problem can also have a big effect on what bits of reputational capital may remain and the potential for a rebuilt relationship. Company A -- ironically, the one responsible for the one part of the meal perfectly in portion -- sent us a two paragraph message, apologized and offered a free cup of joe next time we're in the restaurant. Simple. To the point. Guess what? Apology accepted. When I eventually go back, I won't even mention the freebies. For me, it's the thought that counts. Studies show that most consumers feel this way across the board when it comes to customer service.

Company B's response was a little more iffy. In response to a message that my friend sent they wrote six paragraphs explaining "their side" of the story. My friend was upset because she had recommended the meal to others. Lesson: never make the person that is dissatisfied make an effort. Reading six paragaphs is a lot of work. Instead, keep it simple. Offer a clear apology. Nothing maintains or builds a relationship quite like an apology. Their response to us was a bit shorter and in their defense they did try to call us, but honestly...because I have no relationship with this company I really don't care to respond at all. I never interacted with them before and won't now. Quite frankly, I'm too dang tired to care about them.

Could we have been the one delivery that was just a total wreck? Sure. But it doesn't matter. All we care about is our experience, not the experience others had.

Business Lesson #3: Be Careful Who You Share Your Capital With

If you're still reading you've probably already come to this conclusion yourself. Our reputational capital with Company A was seriously depleted through no fault of their own. But, because their label was on the bag they ended up guilty by association. When I sent an initial message to a friend attending the dinner I said "Company A's Thanksgiving bag is a joke!" It never even crossed my mind to write Company B's name -- even though it was almost solely their offering. Crazy, right? That's the problem with partnership and collaborations and why we encourage our clients to tread lightly with them. With a partnership it's very difficult to untangle your role from another partner. Partnerships can be extremely fruitful, but when something goes wrong it doesn't matter whose fault it is -- both parties are at fault.

In Summary

Yes, this is a long post. But, people are always asking us for free marketing/PR advice. I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this situation and from the idea of reputational capital as a whole. If you own a business and haven't read the book you need to. Sure, some of it will bore you, but reading about capital and how companies big and small have solved their PR problems is eye-opening. It may change how you serve your clients in the future.

 

P.S. A younger version of Kate would probably have taken and posted pictures of the dinner and publicly lambasted the company. I probably would've called the post something sarcastic like "How to Destroy Your Reputation by Almost Ruining Thanksgiving." That really doesn't do much, in my opinion. Sure, I get out some frustration, but it doesn't really make a difference. Instead, I'm using this as a learning opportunity.

P.P.S. OK, a little snark: the UK apparently has problems with portions, too.

 

Living in Italy FAQ: Language Learning

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Every Monday I'll be adding a new post to our "Living in Italy FAQ" series. With a new baby in Casa Hash and very little time for personalized email responses, I'm answering the questions we get asked most often and archiving them on the site for future reference. Enjoy!

QUESTION: How is your Italian language coming along? My friend (a language instructor) suggests that there are monthly and yearly chunks of learning and that the real learning (true fluency) of a language takes about 3 years once immersed in it full-time. So, this is what we're expecting. But just wondering how you're faring in year two of your life in Italy. -Michelle G.

Your friend is definitely right, Michelle! There is no doubt that our Italian language skills progress in distinct "chunks" of time. We may learn a bunch of new stuff and then have a lull for a few weeks or months. 

It's important to talk about this idea of being "immersed in it full-time." Because neither Rob nor I are native Italian speakers, we are severely limited in our learning potential. Our friends that are part of an Italian/Foreigner couple typically learn much faster because they have a resident teacher to learn from.

We are out every single day in our neighborhood and in these familiar situations you could say we are "fluent." But, throw us into a new situation and we suddenly realize we have no vocabulary to express our needs. It seems to be at the worst moments that you realize you don't know the Italian words for very simple everyday objects, feelings and expressions. So, it's always a learning process -- just yesterday we realized that neither of us knew the word for knife. Nearly two years in Florence and neither of us have ever needed to say the word!

That being said, we are progressing. Being pregnant and having a baby here was a HUGE help. We were suddenly forced into situations that absolutely required us to speak Italian and it really helped both of us a lot. Want to talk about contractions, pain medication and hospitals? I'm your gal. Now, of course, we are in one of those "lulls" of learning. 

An interesting thing happens when you live here full-time and aren't a student or someone that can spend 6 hours a day in language class: you get fluent in the necessities for your everyday existance. Government offices? Check. Grocery shopping? Check. Shopping for baby items? Check. The power goes out in the apartment and we need to explain the problem over the phone? Not so much. But, live and learn (and have awesome friends you can call to help out!).

In the new year both of us will probably enroll in language class again. It's been a while and it's time to advance to the next stage of the language -- we've been existing mostly on present and past tense verbs (and there are about a million tenses left to learn). In the end, you just need to be patient with yourself and learn at a pace that is right for you, but also respectful to the culture in which you live.

Favorite Places in Florence: Il Barone

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Last week when my parents were in town we took them to one of our favorite neighborhood spots: Il Barone. It's a great restaurant that never disappoints -- whether we go for a quick lunch or a longer dinner. In fact, Il Barone is where we had an amazing Thanksgiving Dinner last year. The prices are fair and the food is typically Tuscan.

The lunch deals last week were out of this world...bowls of ribollita and plates of grilled veggies with brie for just three euro a piece. Sometimes I think we get spoiled by these neighborhood spots that don't overcharge like those in the center. Especially when it comes to lunch, it's easy to eat great and cheap at places like Il Barone.

So, if you find yourself in the Porta Romana neighborhood be sure to check this place out: Il Barone, Via Romana 123r.

Living in Italy FAQ: How Much Does it Cost?

IMG_0037-4-web Every Monday I'll be adding a new post to our "Living in Italy FAQ" series. With a new baby in Casa Hash and very little time for personalized email responses, I'm answering the questions we get asked most often and archiving them on the site for future reference. Enjoy!

Last year we added a page to our blog to address the #1 question we get via email: how much does it cost to live in Italy? We were hesitant to even make the page because the fact is there is no real answer to this question. Why? Because no two people/couples/families live exactly the same way and there are endless variables that go into determining how much it costs for you to live abroad.

What type of apartment or villa do you want? How many rooms? What neighborhood? What type of diet do you eat? How often do you eat dinner out? Do you need to buy comfort items from home? Do you own a car? Will you join a gym? Do you need to buy medical insurance? Will you insist on American-style heating and air conditioning in your apartment? What do you do for fun? Do you need to enroll your kid(s) in private school? How often do you plan to travel home? Will you need to pay taxes? Do you have kids/pets?

These are just a handful of about 100 different questions you need to ask yourself (so, for the love of all that is holy please do not email me answers to these questions and ask for an estimate).

I've noticed an interesting/alarming trend in the emails we get asking about how much it costs to live abroad. It's almost as though people want us to be their financial advisor...to give them permission or affirmation of some sort that, yes, you have enough money to live abroad. We've had people literally tell us how much they have in the bank. The funny thing? That number tells us nothing. Why? Because we have NO idea how you live your life. What's a fortune for some isn't enough for a year for others.

It is essential that you do extensive research for yourself and create your own budget. Even if a young couple with one baby and a dog emailed me about cost of living I'd still be hesitant to give advice. That's because Rob and I are super frugal -- almost to a fault.

All this being said, here are some palces to look for information about how much various things cost in Italy:

  • Casa.it: An easy-to-use site for finding apartments available for rent. If you're looking for a fairly-priced apartment, avoid vacation rental sites or any site in English. The best places can be found on Italian sites.
    • Sometimes, you can ask about the average electric and gas bills for an apartment. If they are willing to give you this information is can be invaluable to creating a budget. Utilities are expensive here.
  • Vodafone, 3 and Wind are three of the most popular cell/internet service providers. Check out their prices online to see how much these utilities will cost you.
  • Expats in Italy: A fantastic, comprehensive site with articles collected over the years about living in Italy. Search the message boards to find answers on just about anything.

Blogging Bootcamp - Florence, Italy

We get tons of emails from folks in the US and Italy asking about blogging. From design to SEO to general tips and tricks, there is a lot that people want to know about having a successful travel blog. That's why I decided to put together a one-day workshop here in Florence for bloggers... Blogging Bootcamp is a 1-day workshop for current and aspiring bloggers interested in learning exciting and valuable new technological skills. You’ll leave the workshop full of ideas and confidence, as well as the practical skills you need to amplify your current blog or create a fantastic new one.

Over the course of the day you will learn the basics of CSS, layout and design, Photoshop, search engine optimization (SEO), and editorial planning -- and the “big picture” of how these elements combine to create a successful blog.

Here are just a few of the skills and knowledge bases you will learn at Blogging Bootcamp:

  • Best practices in blog design, including layout, color combos and font selection
  • How to understand and write your own CSS blog customizations
  • The five best (and easiest!) Photoshop skills to create eye-catching blog images
  • Using and utilizing Google Analytics data to create SEO-friendly post titles that raise your search engine rankings and generate traffic to your blog
  • Creating an editorial vision, outline and plan for regular and engaging blog content

Where: UNA Hotel Vittoria in the San Frediano neighborhood in Florence When: Monday, December 3, 2012 | 9:00 am - 5:30 (one hour free for lunch on your own) Spaces Available: 15 Cost: $150 Workshop Tuition includes*: goodie bag, bootcamp guide, coffee break

 

Eventbrite - Blogging Bootcamp - Florence, Italy

Whether you blog for business or pleasure, fun or profit, Blogging Bootcamp provides the tools you need to take your blog to the next level.

What to Bring 

  • A laptop - participants can still learn a bunch without a laptop, but you’ll only be able to watch during our skills practice time. Don’t forget your laptop charger!
  • Photoshop: if you don’t have Photoshop installed, you can download the free 30-day trial. I suggest downloading it a day or two before bootcamp.
  • A small notebook and a pen/pencil to take notes

Cancellation Policy 

Given the small nature of the workshop, refunds cannot be issued. You can, however, transfer your enrollment to someone else.

About the Instructor

Kate Hash has called Florence home since January 2011. Her blog, La Vita e’ Bella, has a strong following and is one of the top search results for numerous Italy-related phrases. Her blog has been mentioned on BBC Travel, Travelated.com and Design*Sponge. In October 2011, she and her husband Rob were featured on an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters International. Along with Rob, she works with both American and Italian clients to create stunning websites, social media strategies and more.

You may be wondering...

Who should enroll in Blogging Bootcamp? Blogging Bootcamp is designed with average blogger in mind -- you already have a blog and/or have knowledge of how blogs work. But, you are ready to learn tech savvy skills that will allow you to bump your blog up a notch or two. Blogging Bootcamp is a great choice for self-starters and those that love to learn new tech tricks. Who shouldn’t enroll in Blogging Bootcamp: those looking for a basic introduction to blogging. Basic knowledge of how blogs work is assumed of all participants.

Is it really possible to learn about ALL of these things in just one day?! Yes. We are not covering each topic in depth. Instead, Blogging Bootcamp is designed to give you a kickstart in each of these areas so that you can understand and utilize the vast amount of information and resources available on these topics. For instance, you may be dying to create better photo collages on your site, but are overwhelmed by the prospect of learning Photoshop. After Blogging Bootcamp, you’ll not only know how to make collages, but also the most important tools in Photoshop for blogging -- we ignore the ones you don’t need so that you aren’t overwhelmed! You can learn advanced tricks later once you’ve mastered the basics.

How much time will be spent learning about ______? The workshop length is 7.5 hours. We will spend almost equal time on the five main topic areas (CSS, Photoshop, SEO, Design/Layout, Editorial Planning). That being said, slightly more time will be dedicated to CSS and Photoshop because we will spend a bit of time practicing new skills as a group.

My blog is in WordPress/Blogger/Squarespace -- will the skills be applicable to my site? Yes! Every single thing we discuss at Blogging Bootcamp is applicable across most blogger platforms. Even Tumblr users will find the workshop helpful, although Tumblr provides less access to CSS and design element controls.

Have another question? Email hashconsulting [at] gmail [dot] com.

Eventbrite - Blogging Bootcamp - Florence, Italy

*No accommodations are included in tuition price.