Customer service is often the first line of defense a company has when a customer calls in with a problem. I’ve been in several corporations where customer service is strictly handled by the PR department and other companies where there’s a separate customer service call center. But if you’ve had to deal with customer service over the past decade, I’m sure you’ve found, like I have, that it’s on the wane. People don’t care enough about other people anymore to help them out, even if it’s their job. And many companies have automated their systems in order to help customer service attendants’ deal with more important calls. Most often, you find that customer service people do what they MUST do in order to get the caller off the phone and move on with their day until they can go home. Although your first instinct is to get angry (which never helps), your second instinct is to try to reason with the person on the other end in order to get what you want. Occasionally, it works.
Something recently happened to me as a consumer that made me think about how important customer service really is whether you’re a PR person or not.
I lost my internet with a major company for 10 days and was soured on their customer service. To say I was upset was the least of things. While on the phone with the first level of customer service, I was very clear with the individual that I couldn’t have a weekday appointment (for several reasons), and that I needed an appointment after 6 PM or over the weekend. (Let’s skip to the middle of the story as we all know what happens when you go back and forth with a customer service person when they’re not telling you what you need to hear and haven’t listened to you in the first place.) Three frustrating days later, I finally reached someone who was higher up on the customer service chain (let’s call him Mr. Helpful) who was sympathetic to my plight, wanting to make this work for me. I was extremely grateful and kept thanking Mr. Helpful profusely! I was in shock that he wanted to help me. He made a Saturday appointment for me, confirmed it twice over the next few days, and then I was on my own to wait for the weekend. After feeling like I was bounced around for a few days, I felt good about the proposed outcome, and then all hell broke loose.
Friday morning I received a text message saying that the technician would be there between 8AM-12PM THAT DAY. Considering the hoops I’d already jumped through to get the Saturday appointment, that it was already 9:15AM on Friday and that I’d already left my apartment, I was fuming! I called Mr. Helpful, who wasn’t in his office yet, and also paid a visit to one of the company’s corporate offices along my walk, where the security guard adamantly said that no one could help me. Luckily for me, I ran into a corporate worker (let’s call her Ms. Nice) who heard my situation and could see how distraught I was. She was also willing to help me and again, I was very appreciative! Instead of turning me away as an unsatisfied customer, Mr. Helpful and Ms. Nice went out of their way to help me, knowing that a happy customer is a return customer. The rest of the story aside, the technician showed up on Saturday when he was supposed to, fixed the issue, and both Mr. Helpful and Ms. Nice called me to find out if everything worked out ok (which it did!). After all was said and done, I had a warm, fuzzy feeling toward the company as three individuals (even the technician) went above and beyond to help me. And I believe that¹s how every company wants their customers to feel.
I could’ve gone so far as to call the Consumer Advocate’s office or get on the phone with a company PR person (usually when one PR speaks to another, we understand each other the first time and things get done), but as upset as I was, I couldn’t believe that Mr. Helpful and Ms. Nice wanted to be so helpful. So I gave them the chance to solve my problem and restore my faith in their company. (Isn’t that what PR strives for anyway?)
As PR people, part of our job is customer service, we are the liaison between various internal corporate departments, providing information (photos, messaging, etc.) for others to do their jobs. We are also the liaison between the public and the corporation, providing company news to keep customers informed; but we also handle problems when our customers are upset. Why do we do this? Partly because we want to be certain that the customer is taken care of and is ultimately happy with our company’s product/service, and partly because we want to control the message we send to them.
My point here is that customer service is imperative to a company’s survival. Whether you’re a PR person or an actual customer service representative, you always need to make your customer happy. If you don’t, you never know what damaging comments they’ll make about you or to whom.
Then you’ll need real spin control.
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