It should go without saying that customer experience should be aligned with public relations and marketing objectives. Yet, it appears it doesn’t go without saying, or at the very least, it bears repeating often: Your customer service and customer experience should be aligned with your PR & marketing. If it isn’t, you’re not going to be able to fully leverage the dollars and time invested in the latter, and the expenditure will pretty much go for naught.
In our communications work, we’ve frequently seen that an overlooked aspect of public relations is direct customer service: What is the disposition of and training provided to front-line, customer-facing staff? If not addressed appropriately, this can become a significant public relations issue.
We shared in a recent conversation with colleagues, and here’s a list of customer service problems (potential PR problems) we experienced during just the past week. (If any of the following scenarios ring too familiar, it’s probably time to direct some time and energy to internal communication rather than external communication.)
Common Customer Service Problems
1) Faux or ingratiating politeness, as a cover for poor or unethical business practices.
-We encountered this at a national chain retail tire shop, where the agent engaged in lengthy and friendly chat to blatantly upsell* a client. This went on for some 20 minutes, as incoming customers did a slow burn. When it came our turn, the estimate for replacing a flat tire ballooned to $1,200 in recommended service charges and fees.
2) Employee Attitude #1: “We know you’re waiting in line, but we have 8 hours to fill”:
-This occurred at a neighborhood bank, where customers stood in a growing line awaiting the next of only two available tellers. The two employees, meantime, chatted breezily with each other and with their “favorite” customers, pretty much unconcerned about less-favored customers still waiting on line.
3) Employee Attitude #2: “I don’t care, I only work here”– a total lack of concern or engagement with customers or their needs:
-As we talked about this, we had all experienced this more times than we care to remember: The wait staff who can’t answer basic questions about items on the menu and who, worse yet, seems to be annoyed by any question; the check-out clerk or hostess who appears oblivious to any perceived order among the line of people waiting for attention; one staff even experienced asking an employee the address of a business they were standing in (while trying to navigate herself to her appointed destination), only to be told, unbelievably, that the employee didn’t know.
4) Blatant lying to customers, about stock, delivery, service promises, return policies, etc.:
-Need we say more?
Where Do We Go From Here?
No doubt you’ve experienced at least one of the situations we’ve described. While we’re all for politeness—every customer in every business should expect nothing less. From a PR standpoint, we also know that nothing is more grating or counterproductive than feigned politeness or engagement lacking authenticity. Quite the contrary, either, in the face of deceptive, shoddy, unethical or simply poor service, is only likely to cause greater aggravation.
Yes, we know positive engagement is a two-way street; that, often, dealing with the public can be challenging, and sometimes seemingly thankless. Yet too often within organizations front-facing staff issues are not given the same attention as the latest marketing or PR campaign. But when the above, or other examples of bad customer service, become the signature of a business or an organization, virtually no amount of mass media outreach will undo the damage left by bad experiences. As we all know, the people who greet customers at the door, answer phones, ring up customer purchases. staff the reception or service desk, take customer orders or stock the store shelves are a company’s first line of PR offense. Let’s make sure they know it!
*Sell goods or services beyond what’s actually needed; in this case, car repairs