When I was working at a trade association, I remember an incident where a woman called me to complain about a bad experience she had as a customer to the industry in which I was working.
I listened to her tell me about it, all the while wondering what I could do about it given that I didn't work for the company in question and they weren't even a member at the national level.
After we hung up, I called the state association where the woman lived, and who did have a relationship with the company in question, to see how they would recommend that I proceed, and was told curtly, “We don't deal with customers.”
I was stunned.
I thought to myself, “If we don't ‘deal' with customers, then who pays our check at the end of the day?”
While it was true that we didn't deal directly with customers very often, I still saw them as the reason for my existence.
Eventually I got the woman in touch with her state regulator and had to let it go from there.
This disconnect was one of the reasons that we were careful not to conduct a national advertising campaign. The promise of what we could achieve as an industry just wasn't matching up with the practices in the field.
I think that we might be headed toward the same disconnect with social media and conversational marketing.
As such, I really appreciated this podcast by Paul Dunay at BuzzMarketing that I finally got around to listening to over the weekend.
One of the things they discussed was the problem of building an infrastructure to support conversational marketing. Pete Blackshaw in his post about the podcast:
We're just not credible as marketers on the “conversation” front until we make meaningful investment in listening infrastructures (consumer affairs, relationship marketing). Too many CMOs and industry pundits are waxing poetic about the power of conversations while the consumer gets snubbed at the brand welcome mat or feedback pipe.”
As I have worked monitoring contracts for clients and “listening” to pretty upset customers out there, it has become increasingly clear to me that the culture of the corporation has to change drastically to properly support “conversational marketing.”
The top brass in the organization need to become customer-centric, versus putting sales at the very center of the strategy. The theory goes that by doing this, sales take care of themselves.
And I have seen it in many industries outside of the “conversational” public relations and marketing arena with reduced costs on the backend being one of the biggest benefits, along with positive word of mouth, which is often cited as a primary driver of the sales in customer satisfaction surveys.
My visit to DELL computer last month, where I heard that they now proactively provide technical support for bloggers and that they changed their call center incentives from the “shortest call” to “handled-in-one-call,” drove home to me that it was possible for companies to take on the commitment to make customer service a priority.
This is the true promise of the technology that we now have at our disposal and a new role for public relations.
Public Relations must stop looking at itself as a telemarketer of pitches and press releases to media and instead become a champion for the customer and the communities that they serve.
It is something that I tried to get my hands around when I first started blogging, calling for PR to act as an ombudsman for customers.
I might as well also say that public relations is customer service, whether your customer is business to business or direct to the consumer. And even it you are B2B, it is wise to think of the people who will eventually use your product or service.
- Customer Service is the New, New Marketing, by Brian Solis
- The Four Tenets of Community Management by Jeremiah Owyang
- Join the International Online Community Management Association
- Customer Service is the New Marketing by Valeria Maltoni
- Event: Customer Service is the New Marketing, Hosted by Satisfaction (Thor Muller and Lane Becker)
- Neville Hobson outlines his experience with Virgin Media and reprints the Social Customer Manifesto