Customer Service Needs To Be On PR’s Radar

February 23, 2011 at 2:30 am 1 comment

My wife, Karen, and I had an incredible customer-service experience at the Culinary Institute of America this weekend. We had dinner at one of the student-run restaurants. The food was incredible and the service was like watching a ballet. With all that, students still had time to talk with us about their curriculum and studies.

What does that have to do with public relations? Everything. Public relations professionals must do better at considering the reputational impact of customer service, especially in today’s social networking world.

 I doubt any PR person wants to run call centers. But what sales department doesn’t want to work with PR? What progressive legal team doesn’t consider public relations to part of their strategy? So it should be with customer service.

Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles wrote about the sorry shape of customer service in their wonderful book, Raving Fans. If you haven’t read it, buy it today. It’s a quick read, but one that will change your view of serving customers. “Good or bad,” the book concludes, every “company had a customer service product that was how well the merchandise suited the customers’ needs and the human dimension of the customer/company relationship.” Another word for that combination is reputation.

Every customer contact is an opportunity to reinforce your organization’s reputation, good or bad.  Every question, comment, compliment or complaint is an opportunity to build relationships and reinforce reputations, especially in the social networking world.

“Social media represents an entirely new way to reach customers and connect with them directly,” say Deirdre Breakenridge and Brian Solis in Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.  “Your new role transcends the process of broadcasting messages and reactively answering questions to investing in and building a community of enthusiasts and evangelists.”

But even in the real world, you can observe customer service and consider its impact on reputation. The student restaurateurs were a good example of good customer service. More routinely, a lady at Staples who walked me through placing an order online because the store didn’t have what I was looking, presenting another wonderful example of customer service. She even helped me fill out the rebate request…all for a $10 sleeve of labels.

When you watch the people who represent your organization to the public, either online or face to face, what kind of reputation are they building for you? We would never let someone talk with the media without some coaching. Should we let people talk to individual customers without coaching from PR when those customers can instantaneously tell the world about their experience?

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Entry filed under: Dealing with social media, Organizational communications, reputation. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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