Tag Archives: public relations

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.

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.