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?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.