HomeOpinion & AnalysisWhy good customer service is also good PR

Why good customer service is also good PR

The most bedevilling conundrum that I must get around is why organisations pay lip service to customer service. Yet that is where the money comes from. If they had their way, they would sure get rid of customers, but keep their money.

BY Lenox Mhlanga

From commercial banks to fast food outlets, the horror stories people share about how they have been mistreated could fill volumes.

My brief is to show the link between public relations and customer service, and why it is important to invest in the two faces that stakeholders and indeed customers encounter in any organisation.

I am on record as having said that banks might have a clinical, squeaky clean outlook to their branches, but they suck on customer care. Customers just wait too long for service.

Tellers look and behave like bored accountants (sorry guys) and do not instil any confidence at all for people who look after my money. As a result, banks come close to dentists when it comes to places I would rather avoid.

We could fill pages on the sluggish service provision in that sector, particularly its bureaucratic nature and stiff upper lip approach. Try applying for an account if you want to really know what I am talking about.

It becomes worse as the economy tanks, the reasoning behind this, perhaps, being that of shifting blame to “the prevailing situation that everyone is experiencing.” Stopping short of referring one to the central bank for the source of their woes. Spare me the details.

Fast food outlets have the knack for employing people who are not inspired to encourage me to trust them that they are not serving me food laced with poison. Their take-it-or-leave-it attitude has become the norm rather than the exception.

As for service provision in government offices, we won’t even go there. Those have set the industry standard in being grumpy. They wouldn’t care less.

Things have got so bad that the customer service industry is making inroads in using new technologies to replace humans. But then there are those areas that still require human interface in the service provision process.

It is in this vein that the Chartered Institute of Customer Management (CICM) in partnership with Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe (CCAZ) recently co-hosted the Customer Experience and Service Delivery Symposium in the capital city, Harare.

The meeting was designed to bring new insights into effective service delivery in both the public and private sectors.

The conference set the stage for an inclusive framework that will help improve service delivery across all sectors of the economy.

It brought together the corporate community and government departments to discuss on the service delivery status of Zimbabwe at a macro level and find ways of how best to improve the status quo.

“Our speakers sought to shift paradigms, challenge assumptions, and spark new insights on customer experience,” said the CEO ofCICM, Dr Ricky Harris, who was one of the speakers.

Speakers that included the deputy minister of Information, Communication and Technology and Courier Services Dr Win Mlambo, who was also guest of honour, ambassador Mary Mubi, senior principal director in the Department of Public Affairs and Knowledge Management in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Rosemary Siyachitema executive director of Consumer Council of Zimbabwe; human resources expert, Memory Nguwi and Reuben Gwatidzo, president of Information Society Initiatives Trust, among others.

Participants included directors, CEOs, general managers, representatives of policy makers, local authorities, departmental heads from public and private sectors, contact centre and customer service personnel.

The holding of the symposium dissecting the state of customer service provision in Zimbabwe indicates that there could be light at the end of a very dark customer service.

Public relations and customer service are considered two separate disciplines and yet they interact and intersect more often than we realise.

PR and customer service, like indicated earlier, 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 stakeholders. Customer service is the company’s face that’s presented to its customers.

There should be very little differentiation between PR and customer service and the PR teams because while the two may seem to be separate jobs, the roles of interfacing with individual customers and a company’s publics belong to every employee of the company.
Both are trying to be transparent and keep customers happy so we have those good customer or business relationships. This falls within the overall goal of establishing and maintaining the company’s good reputation.

This is where PR and customer service intersect: Unhappy customers can smear a company’s reputation.

The reality organisations face in the real world is that media favour bad news over good. 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.

Customers escalate bad service through word-of-mouth. Don’t blame the two (media and the customer), but rather deal with and correct the bad experience.

Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. That’s because people are more likely to believe what someone else says about your product or service than what you say about it yourself.

In the age of brand differentiation, customers make purchasing decisions based on a good experience with a brand or a testimony of one. If a customer has good things to say about a brand’s product or service, he or she is bound to share with others about them.

Social media, like it or not, has become an extension of word-of-mouth. And organisations must be in that space, creating a social media strategy and employing social media managers who monitor and manage the narrative about your brand in cyberspace.

Social media will amplify the resonance of a satisfied customer showering you with praises and the opposite is also true. 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.

Lenox Mhlanga is a communication and public relations specialist with over 16 years’ experience. He has worked for the World Bank Group and is a member of the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations council.

He is an associate with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants. The views shared here are his own, unless stated otherwise. He can be contacted on +263 772 400 656 Email: lenoxmhlanga@gmail.com

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