As a mother of three children, I am not a fan of self-serve checkouts. It’s tolerable when I’m shopping alone but when I have children with me, they all want to scan an item, often at once, take the bag off too early and cause the register to go into meltdown. The supervisor ends up standing by us continually having to rectify our mistakes.
As a child (not that long ago), I remember a checkout operator putting items through the register and another person neatly packing them. For a large shop, someone would even wheel out the trolley and load shopping into our car.
Woolworths’ chairman Gordon Cairns said he would turn the fortunes around of Australia’s largest retailers by improving customer service. Mr Cairns acknowledged he had one tough challenge ahead. On the latest Forrester Customer Experience (CX) Index Woolworths and Big W were two of the lowest-scoring brands, certainly poor PR for the company to endure.
Forrester research globally shows 92 per cent of brands rate customer experience as one of their top strategic priorities. However, only 50 per cent of Australian businesses rate customer experience as a priority.
Traditionally, customer service and public relations have been considered two separate areas but they are two very public faces of a business. PR is the company’s face presented to the media and other stakeholders whilst customer service is the face presented to customers. The goal of customer service is essentially to keep customers satisfied while the main PR goal is to protect reputation.
A survey by Neilsen found 92 per cent of consumers rate recommendations from their social network over all forms of advertising.
Why customer experience is good PR
Holla Agency founder and CEO Alex Allwood, who has written Customer Experience is the Brand, says to drive growth businesses must ensure their promises are kept and deliver a positive “end-to-end experience customers want to talk about”.
“To get in the game, brands will need to solve one of their biggest challenges: internal alignment around the customer agenda, where the brand exists to serve its customers,” she says.
Alex says marketing, service, sales, IT, HR and operation departments will have to work closely together to meet the needs of customers needs and foster word-of-mouth recommendations.
Simply we should ensure customers have a positive service experience, so they become valuable "unofficial" PR agents promoting the brand.
Customer experience and PR in action
On a recent run with friends, I was told about a great antiques and homewares store. I knew this store and told a story about how a child accidently broke an item and the embarrassed mother offered to reimburse the store but was told not to worry. Another friend listening to the conversation said she was looking for a side table to so will visit this store. My friend and I had become PR agents for this store pushing a positive message about our shopping experiences.
In contrast, this same friend was telling us how she’d had an unpleasant experience in a store where the sales person was rude and made her feel unwelcome. I immediately did not want to visit the store.
A successful client told me recently how in the early days of his career he made a great effort to get to know his customers. As a sales representative, he would make notes about clients he had to visit.
One of his clients had a dog in the workshop so he'd write down the dog’s name for next time he visited and greeted him fondly upon arrival.
My client understands the connection between customer service and PR. His brand has built an expansive social media following where customers feel a great sense of belonging. The fiercely loyal customer base compliments my work on the PR side – in fact, most times all the hard work is done for me. When they built a new store followers were even involved in making decisions about location and fit out.
Unfortunately, not every customer will be satisfied, and there will always be difficult personalities who will want to damage a brand. Angry customers can complain to their friends via social media with the damaging message spreading very quickly.
However, the more positive social media messages about your brand, the better. An intelligent customer base will determine what may simply be a vengeful or moaning complaint.
Why PR and customer service departments must work together
My advice to companies is PR and Customer Service Departments need to work actively together, for example, the PR department could look over policies for dealing with customer complaints. They can ensure customer service managers are social media savvy. Increasingly companies are employing people to deal specifically with their online communities responding to questions and complaints.
We should remember the reputation of a brand and satisfaction of customers belongs to every employee, even in their private lives. Their social media behaviours can reflect upon their employer, hence the term “cultural fit”. A growing trend is for companies, including some of my clients, to recruit staff using social media. If they align themselves with their brand, especially in a niche or specialised industry, they are often considered a good "cultural fit”.
In all consideration, PR and customer service must closely align and work together to ensure the overall success of a brand and a strong sense of belonging for customers.
How are Your Customer Service and PR Departments Work Together?