Here’s the thing. Lots of people come to us and say, “We just need a press release,” in hopes of some good press attracting customers in droves. If and when those customers start calling, emailing, and walking into your service center, you’d better be prepared to deliver on the promise you made in your press release. All the good PR in the world is useless if your customer service stinks.
One of the first things we typically do for new clients is market research, including interviews with customers – past, present and prospective. And what we sometimes uncover is a customer service problem that no amount of good PR can fix. Unhappy customers tend to be the most vocal, so they write negative reviews, tweet your business with #customerserviceproblems for all the world to see, and tell their friends and families about their bad experiences.
Another frequent finding is that word-of-mouth marketing trumps just about everything else. Happy customers tend to be quieter, but referral programs and surveys requesting testimonials can draw out their positive reviews. Customers who are evangelists for your business are more believable and persuasive than any advertising or PR campaign, which is one giant reason good customer service is a must when shaping your public relations plan.
Still not convinced that customer service and public relations need to work together? Here are more reasons why customer service should be on your PR agenda:
- Excellent customer service earns referrals, testimonials and repeat customers
- Treating customers well is prevention against negative publicity
- Social media is increasingly being used for customer service interactions, so social media managers better be prepared to address complaints – and compliments!
- News outlets favor negative news over positive. It’s unfortunate, but true.
- What people see OUTSIDE your business should match what happens INSIDE. The customer experience should match the expectations set in your messaging.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
The missing cable box
We’ll pick on a cable company, because they consistently get lousy scores for customer service experience, and a friend of mine happens to have a perfect example of terrible service. A couple of years ago, her house burned down, along with everything she owned. (Her family was unharmed.) After that tragedy, her cable provider refused to hook up service in her new home AND put an $810 charge on her bill because she hadn’t returned her old receivers. You know, the ones that were melted hunks of metal and plastic somewhere in the smoldering ashes that were once her home. After multiple phone calls to different departments, she got the same answer every time – pay the $810 or don’t get service. Only after contacting her personal connections at the company, taking to social media, and, as the last straw, telling her story in front of the charred remains of her house on a DFW news station, did the company call to tell her she was off the hook for the receivers and the fee. I’m pretty certain that no amount of good media coverage, promises of extra channels or “customers first” messaging will ever convince her to do business with that company again. It’s like their customer service and public relations teams have never met.
Aretha's brand promise
This story is about making sure the customer experience matches up with a brand promise. There’s a local restaurant, Aretha Frankensteins, that does an excellent job of aligning its messages with the customer experience. There is limited seating, and everything is made to order in a tiny kitchen. So, they use the tag line “It Ain’t Fast Food,” and their Facebook page says, “This restaurant is an experience, and the experience takes time!” Throngs of customers still show up and wait patiently for seating and their (incredibly thick, fluffy, delicious) pancakes because they know what to expect. But if the public messaging was about short wait times and having a speedy business lunch, patrons wouldn’t tolerate waiting for their meals. This is where it’s important to make sure that what you’re saying and what you’re doing match up.
Did I mention that my friend has over 1,000 connections on social media? Just think, if that company had put into place better systems and customer service training, they could have avoided being blasted in the Dallas market and on her Facebook page. They might have even garnered a positive review and some referrals instead.
When working on a PR plan, make sure customer service isn’t overlooked. Surveying customers is a proactive way to identify and address minor customer service issues before they become cringeworthy AND newsworthy. Be mindful of basics, like ensuring people will get a live person or a phone recording that reflects the messages and offers in the marketplace, and do the same on your website. Don’t promote something on Facebook or the radio that’s nowhere to be found online.
Need help making sure your PR agenda includes customer service? We can help!