Why Your PR is Directly Tied To Your Customer Experience

(A few months ago, I was honored to be a guest blogger on Arment Dietrich‘s must-read blog, Spin Sucks. I decided to repost this here in case you missed it!)

I HEART PR mugPicture a CEO in a suit, with a cigar in his mouth, saying to his PR team: “Our customers don’t know what they’re talking about.”

I witnessed this reaction from a CEO (ok – sans cigar & suit) when he received unfortunate news from his PR team. Word on the street about the current customer experience was, um, bad. Really bad. Some tweets had recently tied the company name and “customer service fail” together. They were editing as fast as they could on the company Facebook wall, but it was hard to keep up with the influx of tirades.

This company was excellent at selling. They sold and sold and sold some more. They were growing – fast. But the dirty underbelly of all that rapid growth was a total lack of attention to their current customers. These customers were seen as practically pests – cogs in the wheel of their marketing machine.

They were moving employees out of important roles supporting the operation of the customer experience into marketing-focused roles. The web site was quickly moving from a support center to a sales center. Calls to the support center were fielded by new, inexperienced and untrained support personnel who only cared about the $14/hour.

The PR folks were doing their best to sound the alarm, but the CEO refused to see the connection. “It’s not a PR problem unless (Trade Journal/Industry Analysts/Wall Street Journal) gets wind of it.”

This was at the dawn of the current phase of the “Power to the People” period we’re in now. But companies still aren’t paying attention. Be grateful for feedback directly from customers – even in public. Those complaints via Twitter and Facebook are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Recognize their importance, and pay attention!  Otherwise, you could have PR nightmare on your hands – just like Gini Dietrich wrote about in her post Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines: Crisis via Twitter, “no amount of policy can quell a firestorm created on Twitter if not handled in the right way.”

So what if you start seeing some external indicators that something is wrong with your customer experience? Here’s a 3 step battle plan.

1. Respond publicly and then try to take issues offline.

Don’t respond with a “gee, thanks for telling us” without trying to connect with a customer you can help. (I wrote about United’s failed attempt at connecting with customers here.)

2. Make sure you have a way to internally connect the appropriate people and departments.

Don’t just forward a complaint from a customer to the right department – follow up and make sure there’s action on it!

3. THANK the customer for complaining.

This might be the last thing you want to do, but truly, customer feedback is vital to NOT losing customers. Providing feedback to the customer also shows you care, you’re working on it, and you’re not sacrificing loyal customers with new, shiny ones!

If there was ever a time to over-react to the singular customer complaint, it’s now. Who do you admire in this arena? Who’s doing it well?

Photo Credit: DoktorSpinn

Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the Chief Customer Experience Investigator™ and founder of 360Connext, a global consulting firm specializing in the cornerstones of customer experience: customer engagement, employee engagement and connections like social media. 360Connext serves mid-market companies and larger by helping them evaluate their true customer experience. The evaluations always lead to improvements which then lead to results like increased online conversions or loyalty.

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Meredith Bay
Meredith Bay

Great post, Jeannie! I especially appreciate #2 - following up! It's so easy to pass off a complaint to a different department, but part of your job is to make sure something is actually done about the situation. Side note - I've noticed a slight increase (I don't think it's a trend...yet!) of consumers posting on Facebook/Twitter/etc. that they have a problem but asking for someone to respond privately because they don't want to air their complaint publicly. Have you seen this at all?

Jeannie Walters
Jeannie Walters

Thanks, Meredith. Yes, I personally believe consumers are getting savvier about how to get attention and know social media is one way to do that. It's bound to keep evolving, don't you think?

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

You're making me panic even more now! Must. Have. Dinner.

Tanya Stanfield
Tanya Stanfield

This is so spot-on Jeannie! In the high-speed social media world, all segments of the organization must constantly be prepared to respond to the folks that pay them - their customers. I attended an event last night where a venture capital partner discussed this very same issue when it comes to business plans lacking a customer focus. How easily we sometimes forget about those poor guys, just as Mr. Cigar CEO did!

Jeannie Walters
Jeannie Walters

Excellent point about the business planning stage, Tanya. It's funny how the very thing we need for success (happy customers) is the one thing we can overlook so easily. Thanks for the comment!