Customer Service Is Public Relations

If you think about it, your customer service function has always had an element of public relations to it. Every touchpoint with your customers has the potential to either build loyalty or breed dissatisfaction.

Nowadays, though, the people you please or infuriate with your customer service have the means to give voice to that sentiment.

Every time your customers have to wait on hold for an hour, or are told different things by different representatives, or receive defective support, or simply don’t get their issues fairly resolved, you don’t just harm that one interaction – you hurt your relationship with that customer.

I was highly impressed recently when a Dell customer service agent told me he would stay on the phone with me as long as it took, because he got paid for resolving issues, not just taking high numbers of calls. Meanwhile, agents for other companies seem all too eager to pass me off to someone else as soon as possible.

With modern social media tools, you run the chance of that harm becoming widespread knowledge.

There are four implications for this:

  • Your customer service representatives need to be trained to recognize this new role. Gone are the days when a curt, factual response will be sufficient for every situation. Representatives’ responses to queries need to have an eye on issues management.
  • Customer service needs to be in the loop on company news. If you’re launching a new product, they clearly need to know, but this goes for emerging media and online issues too.
  • Objectives need to focus on customer satisfaction, not turnover speed. Too many support centres focus on the number of customers handled as a success measure. They need to focus on happy customers, not quick ones.
  • Organizational structures need to reflect this role. Customer service benefits from sitting within, or having a direct line to, the communications function.

At a time like this, when new business is at a premium and given that it takes far less of an investment to keep a customer than to gain a new one, customer service takes on a new importance. It’s time to start thinking of customer service as an investment, not simply a cost.

What do you think?

  • Absolutely, Dave. It is precisely those organisations that consider the customer to be a nuisance that will struggle to adapt to an increasingly transparent society. Those organisations that continue to view customer engagement as an unwelcome burden will invariably offer second rate customer service, and will as a corollary suffer the consequences; most notably in the form of damage to the brand equity.

    As the electronic voice of the consumer becomes increasingly louder, the importance of getting it right first time rises proportionately. Failure to do so will be reported online, and as you suggest, the costs associated with repairing negative brand perceptions are substantially higher than the costs associated with keeping the customer happy in the first place.

    TLR

  • Twitter Comment by @TheLovableRogue (Christopher Kelly)

    The Ongoing Importance of Customer Service and Positive Product Experiences [link to post]

    http://twitter.com/TheLovableRogue/statuses/1099503604

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • When gathering requirements for software, you have to have the user top of mind. Their comfort with the product should be the focus and measure of the development effort.

    The number company-customer touchpoints are on the increase as a result of the social media channels they employ in tactics or operations. Customer care becomes complicated for the business because theoretically, at least, different touchpoints require different communication techniques.

    I wonder if one day we’ll see communications experts at the project table with customer care departments?

  • I’m entirely with you on this. Social media has the power to spread bad experiences. It’s best to do good by your customers for obvious reasons, but certainly vis a vis your broader reputation it’s pretty critical. And you never know who you’ll offend (From the Freakonomics blog (& book:) http://bit.ly/ufcL

  • This post resonated with me, Dave, not only because as consumers we are all victims or beneficiaries of customer service bad and good, but as a PR consultant for technology companies, many of whom develop tools that are employed in the customer relationship management space or telephony applications in support of customer service. It’s no mistake that with at least one of our clients, the executive in charge of communications is also the lead for customer care. Agreed that there is indeed an intersection here and that forward thinking companies need to recognize this confluence and act accordingly.

  • Twitter Comment by @michaelsantoro (Mike Santoro)

    Customer Service is PR. Monitoring soc media important, but better to stop problems before they start. [link to post]

    http://twitter.com/michaelsantoro/statuses/1101879633

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment by @markblevis (Mark Blevis)

    Everyone in your organization that has contact with the public is in customer relations! [link to post]

    http://twitter.com/markblevis/statuses/1101983404

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • Twitter Comment by @midnighttango (Tatiana Tugbaeva)

    Customer service is PR – couldn’t agree more! I is now so easy to learn about how a company treats its customers [link to post]

    http://twitter.com/midnighttango/statuses/1102003833

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  • It’s simple to manage good customer relations. I think the organizations that blow it actually have to put effort into infuriating their customers.

    One experience I had recently that is happening with decreasing frequency was when I was in a long line being served by a single person at a sandwich place in Colorado during the holidays. That person took time to acknowledge the queue two or three times and reassured us that she would be with us shortly. That simple gesture of a few words, an acknowledgment and a smile helped me ignore the wait.

    In addition to the customer service role played by individuals within your corporation (whether they’re at work or wearing the company logo while out for a skate), the company broadcasts its customer and public relations commitments every time they receive a phone call. Organizations that regularly place customers in long hold queues, particularly those with very short music loops, demonstrate have little the organization values those people. “Your Call is Important To Us” by Laura Penny is a great read.

  • D’oh! “demonstrate have little” should be “demonstrate how little”.

  • I agree with you, Dave. And I love the title of your post. It is all about connecting with the customer, a true attitude of service and building positive, memorable relationships. It’s essential, as you state, to train reps “in this new role”. Great customer service isn’t just about expediency. It is more about empathy, active listening and true Service. That gets remembered.

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  • Dave, great post. It is all so true and so simple. Just treat your customers the way they want to be treated and you will receive LASTING effects. Little do customer service reps know that their help and respect for that customer go such a long way in terms company reputation, product sales and loyal cliental. I enjoyed your blog and want to say thank you! In fact, I enjoyed it so much I am writing a blog post about “Customer Service and Public Relations” for an online magazine, Platform Magazine. Check out the Web site! And if I may, I want to use your blog post as a source. Do you have any more about this topic you can tell me?

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  • Well said. I agree with everything here. I remember when I got my cell phone I had some issues with it and so I called the company. It took 3 different people to fix the problem. They just kept passing me on to the next person to see if they could help me. Finally the last person I talked to seemed genuine and friendly. I remember how nice it was to speak with someone who clearly understood my problem and how to fix it properly. That lead me to think, how many customer service member are not properly trained at their jobs? We need to make sure the people representing the companies not only promote good customer service but accurate and knowledgeable service as well.

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  • One of my favorite customer service quotes is “Here is a simple but powerful rule – always give people more than what they expect to get.” -NELSON BOSWELL”

  • Zul

    Hi Dave,

    Most of the organization aware of the importance of customer service, unfortunately the aspiration does not understand and keep on practice by the lower ranking staff.

    Zul
    Importance of customer service

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  • Drew at Intelestream

    Couldn’t agree more. Customer service has taken on a whole new level of importance and urgency. Though interestingly, it should have been as important years ago as it is today. The difference is that companies are held immediately accountable and to a wider audience. Thankfully, I would underscore CRM’s ability to homogenize a company’s core departments and help build more transparency. No longer are sales, marketing and customer service working independently and in silos (or at least they shouldn’t be); a solid CRM solution holistically centralizes all customer-facing information. Used strategically, that can certainly help foresee and/or smooth out any potential public relations nightmares.

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