Public relations (PR) and customer service are considered two separate disciplines and areas of responsibility.
In this post, I’m going to show you how they interact and intersect more often than we realize.
PR and customer service are two angles of a company’s face.
PR is the company’s face that’s presented to the public and to gatekeepers, such as media and other organizations.
Customer service is the company’s face that’s presented to its customers.
Where PR and Customer Service Intersect
PR and customer service have different goals, and each one is essential to a company’s success:
The goal of customer service is to keep customers happy. Whereas the goal of PR is to establish and maintain the company’s good reputation.
This is where PR and customer service intersect: Unhappy customers can smear a company’s reputation.
Unfortunately for us business owners, media favor bad news over good news. So when a company does something bad, makes a mistake, or fails to deliver on its promise, media take notice and are more than happy to spread the word.
Social media amplifies this. Everyone with a social media account is now a media creator and publisher. Your angry customers can whine and complain to their 560 Facebook friends and 2,100 Twitter followers in two minutes.
And the friends of their friends and followers of their followers, and the whole world will learn about it in two hours. Or less.
The accessibility and viral nature of social media makes it an attractive platform for customers who want your attention.
I often see this advice among my virtual friends: Got a complaint about a product or service and you’re not getting anywhere with their customer care hotline? Tweet about it!
Customers today know they’ll get a response much faster if they air their complaints in public.
Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases, says:
“Every time I have a problem with Bank of America, I turn to Twitter. Every time! I never go to the bank anymore, as their social media presence is so solid it’s unnecessary.”
It’s Not Always Bad News
On the plus side, happy customers can become your best public evangelists. They’re terrific for PR!
Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing in the world. That’s because people are more likely to believe what someone else says about your product, than what you say about yourself.
When people who’ve paid money for your product or service speak highly of it, they’re believable and credible.
And once again, social media can amplify the resonance of a satisfied customer showering you with praises.
Happy customers are particularly influential among their own friends and followers in social media.
The bottom line is, your customers’ level of satisfaction affects your company’s reputation. So good customer service is good PR.
3 Ways PR and Customer Service Can Collaborate Better
What does this mean for PR and customer service practitioners?
1. PR and Customer Service Departments should be actively involved with each other.
Because customer service reps are the company’s first line of PR, then they ned to be PR-savvy, too.
The PR Department can look into customer service scripts and give guidance on how to respond to complaints and angry customers.
PR can also work with the Customer Service Department to encourage positive mentions in social media. For example, customer service staff can identify your evangelists in social media and show appreciation by sending them cool swag. In turn, this can help seed more good PR.
2. Customer service and social media manager roles are merging.
With more customers using social media to get customer care, customer service reps need to become comfortable with using social media platforms.
At the same time, social media managers are increasingly expected to provide customer care. One observer has noted that “some companies have turned their social media pros into customer service reps.”
There is now an emerging role among companies, usually referred to as the “community manager.”
Job descriptions vary, of course, but in general, the community manager engages with a company’s online communities (whether on Facebook, Twitter, forums, etc). This includes responding to questions and complaints from existing customers.
3. Reiterate that PR and customer service are part of everyone’s job description.
PR and customer service may be separate jobs, but the roles of interfacing with individual customers and a company’s publics belong to every employee of the company.
Everything employees do, whether in their private or public lives, will reflect on the company’s reputation.
Even their social media activities can and will be used by others to judge the company that employs them. In fact, content that’s published by employees (outside of their jobs) is considered “employed media” — and is another type of content companies should look at and leverage.
This is why companies are increasingly sensitive to “culture fit” when hiring. The candidate’s alignment with the the company’s values is one of the main criteria for recruitment — sometimes it’s considered even more important than the applicant’s skills. After all, skills can be learned. Values are much harder to instil.
I hope this post has shown you that customer service and PR are more closely related that you may have previously thought. They are two separate disciplines that intersect more than ever before, because consumers have become empowered as public communicators.
And these two disciplines must support each other and be in perfect alignment, for a company to succeed.
Are you seeing more more collaboration between customer service and PR in your own company? What challenges have you experienced and how are you responding to them?
Share your experience in the comments below. Or let me know via Twitter.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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