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Customer Service IS Corporate Messaging

Jeremy Pepper
Expert Author
Published: 2005-03-10

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How many corporations know how its customer service (CS) department and personnel are interacting with the public ...

As customer service is usually the first human interaction that your customers have - particularly if you are an Internet-based business - shouldn't you know what your people are saying?

If you are in a public relations department, here's a suggestion: work down in customer service for a day. Answer the phones, answer the emails. Do you really know what your customers are saying, or are you too insulated in the PR department? You want to know the real issues for your company, spend a day in the trenches of customer service. Then, work with the head of CS to ensure that messaging is consistent across the board. Should the two departments be connected? Of course not, that's close to impossible. But, they should work together.

When I was at Ofoto, everyone at the company had to come down to CS to help whittle down the queue during the Holiday rush. Even prior to that, I would come down to CS to see what issues the customers were having, and what they were saying. The crew - George, Stan, Lakeisha, Michelle, Dave, Jeff, Kevin and others - were a great bunch of people, and worked magic.

Since I worked at Ofoto, I have 3 years of photos there, and I ran into a little bit of a problem trying to upload the latest photos on Sunday. For some reason, I couldn't get the drag-and-drop to work. I tried first on Firefox, then on IE. Third time was a charm, but while trying to get it to work, I called Ofoto Customer Service. The toll-free number is 800-360-9098, by the way, and not 24-7 like it used to be.

Avery, the CS person on the phone, was amazing - but not in a good way. I was having problems, and I was missing two photos from one of my earliest albums. I asked if Ofoto had lost photos again - the response for the past two months was "server maintanence" - and his response was about the new terms of service, where Ofoto is deleting photos if you don't purchase. I then noted that Ofoto wouldn't be randomly deleting photos, and that the TOS is crap for someone that has been using Ofoto since 2000. I vented, in other words.

Heck, I took the company through many of its paces and through the Kodak acquisition.

Avery's response - if you don't like Ofoto, leave it. We don't need customers like you anyway.

When I asked for his supervisor, he told me to call back and hung up on me. Classic.

The thing - and this is where it becomes a public relations issue - is that CS person had no idea who I am. I could have been a reporter. I could have been with a competitor. I could have been a Kodak executive. The point is he had no idea who I was.

Reporters do commonly call up customer service to test out the service, and put it into reviews. If I had been a reporter, this could have been a much worse situation.

The fact is that public relations has no oversight on customer service, nor should it. CS is a different animal, and in this instance training broke down. CS should never tell a customer to leave, and should be treating people well. Because it can cause a storm for the whole company, which then PR has to clean up.

In other words, this is about corporate messaging. Every company has a mission statement, and customer service is the vehicle for that corporate message that actually is communicated to the field. Like I noted above, PR should work with CS on messaging and work to make sure that the CS representatives are using the right message.

The happy ending? I IM'ed an engineer I know there, he fixed the two photos, and he apologized. He got it - that the customer, while not always right, is important for the long term health of any company. Plus, he's a good guy. :)

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About the Author:
Jeremy Pepper is the CEO and founder of POP! Public Relations, a public relations firm based in Arizona, USA.

He authors the popular Musings from POP! Public Relations blog which offers Jeremy's opinions and views - on public relations, publicity and other things.

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