Author Archives: Carroll and Company Communications, LLC

The Art of Customer Service

Customer ServiceI am pretty hard-core when it comes to customer service. If I have a bad experience that isn’t rectified, I’ll never buy from that company again, no matter how good the deal. They have lost my trust. Period. After all, isn’t customer service what public relations is at its core?

As most of us know first-hand, really good customer service is rare. It requires an investment in training by companies and a desire by staff to serve others. In an effort to recognize those organizations that invest in customer service, I want to share a story about an experience I had recently at my local Ford dealership.

The Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the power steering went out in my Ford Escape. Now this car is well maintained but it has nearly 140,000 miles on it, so it was due for a major repair. I was about 3 miles from Marshall Ford where I bought the car and have had it serviced since 2006. I could still maneuver the car (for those that remember, think “manual” steering) so I drove it there. The dealership was about to close and wouldn’t be able to look at my car until the following Thursday, but they provided me with a new Ford Focus to use until my car was repaired. This is standard for Marshall Ford and one of the reasons I’ve bought my last three cars from them. The problem is, my 2006 Escape is the car my son drives back and forth to school. He’s under 18, so he can’t drive the rental–and I wasn’t about to let him drive my new Escape LTD. I would have to drive car pool until we got his car back.

Tuesday morning, Marshall Ford called, gave me an estimate for the repair and said my car would be ready late on Thursday. Thursday came and went. I heard nothing. I also didn’t hear anything on Friday or Saturday. Monday afternoon I called Marshall Ford.  The person I spoke with could not track down a work order for my car. He said “it looks like we are waiting for a part.” Great, I thought. I already knew that. It had been more than a week since I dropped my car off and no work had been done on it. The person I spoke with said my service rep would be in the following day between 7:30 and 4, then, silence. Thinking how hard would it be to volunteer to have my rep call me I said, “Would you have him call me when he gets in, please?”

My rep called the next morning and told me my car would be ready that afternoon. I told him what an inconvenience the situation had been and he said, “Well you still have that rental car don’t you?” I took a deep breath. “Yes,” I said and then explained – again- how my son couldn’t drive it and I had to carpool. He said he’d call as soon as the car was ready and we hung up.

When I arrived at the shop that afternoon, my rep was on the phone. Another rep recognized me and asked if he could help. I told him my story and he immediately said I should have been called and updated about my car. He couldn’t do anything for me but the fact that, on behalf of the organization, he owned the situation was critical in defusing my dissatisfaction.

The bill was a little less than the estimate which was surprising, but I still wasn’t satisfied. These guys had always given me excellent service and I had trusted them for 14 years. Now my trust was shaken. I believed they lost my service ticket and no one was admitting it to me. I explained my story to the cashier and asked to speak to the service center manager. The cashier said she would get him and once again, owned the situation and apologized on behalf of the company. The service center manager I spoke with was most accommodating in making an adjustment that we both thought was fair. He also told me that my service rep had already told him of the situation and took responsibility for the lack of communication and owned that he had dropped the ball.

The morale of this story? Speak up when you feel the service is not what you expect, but do so with respect and decorum. Everyone makes mistakes.

And the bottom-line? Good customer service pays. Marshall Ford still has a loyal customer who is now sharing the experience in social media. As any public relations or marketing professional will tell you, you just can’t buy that kind of PR.


When Was the Last Time You Tried Something New?

As leaders, the weight and volume of our daily responsibilities make it so easy to slip into a routine of doing what we know has worked in the past. But as this Harvard Business Review post reminds us, the status quo makes us stale, bored and irrelevant leaders that are keeping our organizations and our own careers from thriving.

So, when was the last time you tried something new and different? What impact did it have on your leadership?

If Bad Policy is the Issue, PR Isn’t the Answer

CBS Face the Nation anchor, Bob Schieffer is old-school.  I may not always agree with him, but his reports and commentaries are always well researched, balanced and thought provoking. His commentary on political public relations this past Sunday was no exception. 

For young reporters and public relations professionals, Schieffer’s commentary provided a historical perspective on how the Nixon Administration essentially invented political public relations by trying to control access to elected government officials, providing staged photo ops, and delivering well-crafted soundbites.  For us more experienced professionals, Shieffer’s commentary reminds us of two points we need to consider as we provide PR and reputation management counsel to our clients:

  1. In a world of social media, access to anyone is managed at best.  As long as there are smartphones with photo-taking capabilities and instant internet access, it is not possible to completely control access; and,
  2. Perhaps most importantly, to quote Schieffer, “good PR never trumps bad policy.”  The commentary is referring to government policy, of course, but the same applies to organization or business policy.  

As PR consultants, strategists and practitioners, sometimes our biggest challenge is helping clients stay out of their own way as we advise them on what, where, when and how to engage with their audiences.  We have an obligation to tell clients when they have corporate or organizational policies that are contrary to their brand, could get them into hot water; or in some cases, no policies on critical issues that could easily blow up in their face. Social media policies, still lacking or inconsistently enforced in many organizations, are one good example that comes to mind. 

The best time for these discussions may be during crisis communications planning, but if you’re having trouble getting the client to prioritize their crisis communications plan, you may need to raise the topic sooner. Lacking, outdated or misdirected policies need to be addressed before a promotions campaign is implemented.  If they are not addressed, you can bet they will come back to bite you in the middle of the campaign when all of the client’s critical stakeholders are watching. 

St. Louis’ Reputation for Giving is Stronger than Ever

Nearly 500 of St. Louis’ nonprofit organization and foundation leaders, board members, staff and volunteers gathered at the Edison Theatre on the Wash U campus last week to be among the first to learn the results of an annual survey on philanthropic giving in the region. This was the first time I attended this annual event presented by the Rome Group.

It was great seeing the Edison Theatre filled at 8:30 on a weekday morning with representatives from so many of St. Louis’ nonprofit leaders. But what was really impressive was that nearly 75 percent of the more than 200 nonprofits and 95 grant makers surveyed reached their fundraising goals in 2013. What’s more, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed expect contributions to increase in 2014. This is the highest annual giving report in St. Louis since before the recession. The survey, conducted by the Rome Group, in partnership with the Gateway Center for Giving and the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation, mirrors a national trend in charitable giving which is up 4.4 percent over 2012.

So, what does this mean for you and me? Beyond the fact that as St. Louisians, we can be proud knowing that we’re there for each other, it’s good news for business and our economy. According to a 2010 economic impact study on foundation grant makers conducted by the Philanthropic Collaborative, the nearly $38 billion (yes, with a “B” during the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression) in grants awarded across the country that year contributed significantly to job creation, wages, GDP, and tax revenues. According to the report, 500,000 new jobs were created in 2010 thanks to foundation grants. That number expanded to 1 million jobs within a year when you factor in the impact on downstream organizations and backward linkages. Contrary to popular belief that when the grant money runs out, so do the jobs, this study demonstrates that foundations add significant long-term employment because of the return on investment overtime. Long-term economic benefits of philanthropy include:

  •  reduced costs because of less juvenile crime;
  •  reduced health care and social services costs; and
  •  longer, better quality of life thanks to advancements in funded medical research.

Other benefits include improved worker education and productivity and a thriving business environment. So, with philanthropic giving in St. Louis continuing to strengthen, can solid business growth be far behind?

Shifting the Paradigm from a Culture of Sickness to a Culture of Wellness

Prevention may be the silver bullet that helps get the nation’s $2 trillion healthcare costs under control, but implementing and sustaining it feels more like eating just one potato chip: nearly impossible. It requires a collective paradigm shift from a culture of excessive consumption and reactive healthcare to one of moderation and prevention.

This cultural change starts with changing how we perceive and value prevention in businesses, schools, places of worship, community facilities – everywhere we live, work and play. But change is hard, and most of us resist it even when we know it’s in our best interest. So what is it that will move us to take the first steps? Not too surprising to the marketing-types, it starts with creating the right message, delivering it in the right place at the right time to stir the emotions of business leaders, government officials, religious leaders, or community organizations and moving them to act. In business, that message is often about how much of the operating budget is being eaten up by healthcare benefits.

Last week, I attended the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) CEOs Against Cancer Corporate Impact Conference at Washington University where companies that have made a commitment to creating a culture of wellness and prevention were recognized. Leaders from companies like Boeing, Walgreens, Express Scripts and Allstate conducted breakout sessions where they shared messages of best practices, lessons learned and how they are measuring the success of their corporate wellness programs. Tied closely to the wellness programs are corporate social responsibility initiatives where these private sector companies partnered with ACS to promote cancer prevention screenings and healthy lifestyles in the community and raise money for research. Many conference attendees said that they got great ideas from these sessions and couldn’t wait to try them in their own organizations — right message, right place, right time.

This is an anecdotal example of the impact of messaging on prevention, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Best Practices Guide for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Programs references a number of studies that demonstrate the impact of media messaging on tobacco use behaviors. The cancer risk of tobacco use is common knowledge, and yet, the research shows a direct correlation between educational tobacco campaigns and spikes in requests for tobacco cessation assistance.

Another cancer risk factor that may not be quite as well-known is obesity. Because educational campaigns about obesity prevention are relatively new, there are few scientific studies on their effectiveness. However, a 2013 study published in the journal Obesity[1] suggests that targeted educational campaigns to create awareness about obesity are beginning to affect attitudes about the risk obesity presents for many chronic diseases.

Bottomline? Communication messaging is never a one-size-fits-all proposition. Get the biggest ROI for your communication dollar by testing your messages with your target audience first and be sure you have the right message in the right place at the right time.


[1] Colleen L. Barry, Sarah E. Gollust, Emma E. McGinty, Jeff Niederdeppe. Effects of Messages from a Media Campaign to Increase Public Awareness of Childhood Obesity. Obesity 2014; 22: 466-473.

A Return to Quality Television and Movies

To say that I’m not a fan of reality TV is an understatement. Granted, I’m not in the demographic for most of those shows but as all veteran communicators know, the real value in what we do lies in our ability to tell a good story.

For the past decade or so, television conglomerates decided that they could save a lot of money by eliminating the writers and still deliver programming that would draw big audiences for their advertisers.  For a long time, they were right.  Like rubber-neckers watching a car wreck on the highway, for many years, millions of viewers tuned in to watch mindless programs where conniving, manipulative “contestants” engage in cat-fights or stab each other in the back.

In the film industry, big special effects started drawing huge audiences.  Once again it was determined that the storyline was of little relevance.  If film companies cookie-cuttered the big explosions and special effects format, the audiences would come and they could keep breaking box office records.

Now, apparently the television and film industries are facing a bit of a reality check of their own as audiences are once again seeking quality programs with solid storylines they can relate to on issues that resonate with them. According to the most recent prime time ratings, viewers are tuning into more scripted shows like Big Bang Theory rather than reality shows like American Idol.  Last weekend, the premier of the small-budget film, The Fault in Our Stars beat out the anticipated release of the Tom Cruise block buster, Edge of Tomorrow.  As one CBS reporter noted, sometimes the best “special effect” is a great story.

Don’t get me wrong, not all reality shows are mindless, and they all do have storylines.  There’s always a protagonist, an antagonist and there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. The difference between the reality shows and scripted shows with professional actors is how well the story is told; how well it connects emotionally with its audience.  For example, without Googling it, tell me, who appeared in the second season of The Bachelor?  Would anyone but their close friends and relatives know?  Now, tell me, what is your favorite Seinfeld, Friends or Big Bang Theory episode?

Storytelling like that requires experience, talent, and yes, a writing budget. But, when done well, the impression it leaves can be permanent. Who among us wouldn’t pay handsomely to create an indelible positive impression about our products, services or messages on the minds and hearts of our consumers?