We’ve all had to deal with unhappy customers, whatever our line of work. If you’re an agency PR pro, you have to respond to unsatisfied clients from time to time. If you’re an in-house PR or marketing pro, perhaps you’ve seen customer dissatisfaction played out in public on Twitter. It can be disheartening for sure, but managing other people’s disappointment is one of those skills that can be developed quickly, and the process itself can teach you a lot about yourself.
These recommendations for managing unhappy customers don’t apply to all situations, but they can be easily adapted to most situations.
1. If a customer complains about your product or service in a social post, go beyond taking it offline—which usually means just shuttling a person to email—and ask the customer to send you an email with their phone number. You’d be sending a clear message that you take the complaint seriously.
2. If a customer complains about your product or service in an email, immediately suggest a time to talk by phone. Again, suggesting a phone call is a mark of seriousness and respect. Using the phone also minimizes the possibility of anger escalating or misunderstandings percolating.
3. If you speak to the customer by phone, refrain from interruptions. If you interrupt the customer in mid-sentence you’re, in effect, telling her or him to shut up. Listen well; speak infrequently.
4. Once you’ve truly heard your customer out, take a couple of moments to consider the validity of the complaint. Did you or your company promise something that you didn’t deliver? Or did the customer buy your product or service without paying attention to the PR or marketing messages around that product or service? Aggrieved customers can’t be talked out of their emotions, but it’s helpful for you to make a considered judgment call. If you feel the complaint is totally without justification then an apology may not be in order, but that doesn’t mean your job is done (see No. 6).
5. If the complaint if valid, then you owe the customer an apology and gratitude for helping you to improve your product or service. Express them both succinctly and professionally.
6. Offer the customer something special. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a refund. The customer is already interested in what your brand has to offer. Provide a couple of options—just don’t let one of them be a coffee mug with your company logo.
You’ll find that the conversation alone is something special, for you and the customer. It’s full-on communication—and that’s where the self-knowledge comes in.
—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News
Let’s assume you are brilliant. And you’re an inspiration to your peers, an asset to your organization. Let’s also assume that while you’re an A-player you still have a lot to learn. As the late, esteemed UCLA coach John Wooden noted, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
If you’re still with me on this concept, then let’s assume you have less than a month to prep yourself for a stellar 2016. If you’re taking time off for the holidays then really you have just a few weeks to get things together, to get your particular Act in motion. To give you a running start on 2016, I’ve compiled a list of 11 things you can do in the next few weeks to sharpen your PR skills and acumen. Like the bowl of vegetables at the holiday table, these ideas aren’t what you’re craving to add to your plate. But make room for them if you are truly hungry to succeed.
Consider these 11 simple activities at work:
- Conduct a content audit: review the posts and articles on your web site and social media platforms to get a clear picture of your brand’s story over the past year. Too much of one topic, not enough of others? Create an Edit Calendar with wiggle room.
- Reverse mentor: if you were born after 1992, then match yourself up with a Millennial at your organization and spend some time learning from him/her. Likewise, if Mary Tyler Moore and Wite-Out don’t ring a bell with you, there’s a lot you can learn from the Baby Boomers and Gen X. (Read my blog on this topic.)
- Brush up on the Barcelona Principles. You already know what they are (right)?
- Have a meeting with your Marketing colleagues to share ideas and develop cross-discipline communication strategies.
- Do a Social Media Cleanse. Does your brand need to be on Pinterest? Is Instagram working for you? Are your Twitter followers not the best representation of your brand? What’s Facebook doing for you?
- Review your Crisis Plan and update it, if necessary. If you don’t have a crisis plan in place, create a first draft asap and share it with your team and C-Suite.
- Assess your media relationships. That holiday card you’re about to send won’t endear you to a reporter. Set up a meetings with key journalists in the first quarter of 2016. Brush up on their body of work beforehand. Commit to developing meaningful relationships with this important stakeholder group.
- Familiarize yourself with your organization’s stated mission and goals and make sure your PR dept’s Mission and Goals align with Corporate. Likewise, if you’re with an agency, be sure your client is in sync with its organization’s overriding mission.
- Audit your resources. Do you have the right team in place to take on the challenges of 2016? What are the most important job responsibilities and skills you need on your team next year? Consider this carefully and don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations and make bold moves.
- Do a Diversity Check. Is your brand inclusive and are the voices representing your organization and brand diverse?
- Host a Failure Fest in the next few weeks; members should share their favorite failure of the year and what they learned from it. No #Winning stories allowed.
Keep me apprised of your progress on these 11 ideas. If you can’t get to all of them this month, there’s always next year.
– Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Please visit your local mom-and-pop shops this holiday season. Go to that toy store that’s been around for 65 years and which just suffered another humiliating rent increase. Buy your wrapping paper at the greeting card store that’s hanging on by its fingernails and getting by on deeply felt smiles.
OK, my commercial’s over. I’m here to talk about Zappos. I’ll bet you’ve got the Zappos.com site pulled up on a browser window right now as you balance work email against crushing holiday gift pressures.
We all know how good Zappos’ customer service is. The Zappos site is a breeze to wade through. Ordering is similarly a breeze and returning shoes is as easy as firing a paper airplane at your recycling bucket. We also know that it’s reportedly a great place to work. Every employee is considered a customer service rep, whether or not they deal directly with customers. Risk-taking is encouraged.
Zappos’ customer service and its skill in publicizing its workplace culture have snowballed into a self-perpetuating snowball of positive PR. So what has Zappos done this holiday season? It packed a new snowball and sent it rolling.
At 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 9, vans and trucks ferrying 30 Zappos employees and nearly 2,000 gift boxes rolled into Hanover, N.H. Through the night and continuing until 6 a.m. on Nov. 10, the intrepid Zappos employees dropped off on doorsteps boxes containing warm-weather gear such as hats, gloves and socks, as well as sunglasses, headphones and backpacks, a reward to Hanover for being home to so many loyal Zappos customers.
This Grinch-in-reverse stealth move was captured on video and promoted to the media, building on Zappos’ legacy as a PR-savvy company that transmits its values through action. The notion of giving back could not be made more literal.
The Hanover surprise gift drop-off is in character for Zappos, but what if you work for a risk-averse brand that’s not as adept at customer relationships? You might have some trouble selling such a dead-of-night stunt.
“This sort of out-of-the box big idea thinking has to start internally,” Kristin Richmer, Zappos Awareness Marketing, said to me via email. “We’re big proponents of our culture that encourages these types of bold stunts, but I’m sure there are companies out there that may have hesitations about taking on such a daring activation. We believe having a well-thought-through plan and plenty of passion will typically help generate internal excitement.”
Richmer counsels marketers, PR pros and anyone involved in customer relationships to harness their own conviction, determination and drive when trying to sell internally a seemingly outrageous loyalty-building effort. “That will help prove an idea is the right one, and what’s the worst that can happen?” she says.
In the case of the Hanover drop-off, the worst that happened was a sleepless night for some employees. All in a night’s work.
—Steve Goldstein, editorial director, PR News @SGoldsteinAI
Now is the time of year when we dispense a lot of thanks. Yet after the ball drops in Times Square and we start referring to the year 2016, the amount of thanking we do will undoubtedly diminish. Whether at work or at home, we are avid thankers between now and December 31. Why not keep it going?
After the last leftover turkey meal is consumed, the umpteenth hug and handshake exchanged, and the gifts opened, used, returned or re-gifted, I propose we create more holiday-inspired opportunities year-round. The gestures and activities we’re engaging in during the holiday season can, indeed, be continued for the next 10 months at very little cost and with high reward. Consider these ideas for creating more Thank You opportunities at work:
• The Cards: Each week, send a card to a stakeholder – a reporter, a customer, a client – thanking him/her for something that transpired (a great interview, purchasing your product or service, etc)
• The Parties: Commit to hosting a small party for your team every quarter to celebrate recent successes.
• The Gifts: Every few months, give a small gift of thanks to someone in your organization with an under-the-radar job – perhaps the guy in IT or the people in the mailroom or the woman in HR.
• The Community Service: Volunteer your time at a food bank, homeless shelter or any organization that could use your time and assistance “off-season” and encourage your company or team to participate too.
• The Decorations: Take a look at your work environment: does your office best reflect who you are and does your workplace in general need some uplifting? Your team will thank you for caring.
• The Photographs: For no declared reason, have a new team picture taken half-way through the year; add it to your new decorations (see above) and give a framed copy to each team member.
• The Long-Lost Friends: Reach out to colleagues from conferences past and to peers who got away. You’ll be surprised how thankful you’ll feel for reconnecting.
• The Time Off: get away from it all throughout the year, not just during the holiday season. Don’t be that person who is the first one in the office and the last one to leave.
Intentionally kept off is the Ugly Sweater, if you so choose to wear one at a holiday party. Some things are meant to be embraced just once a year. You’ll thank me for that piece of advice.
– Diane Schwartz
On Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Envision a nationally televised debate among leaders in Public Relations. Who you picture on that stage is a pretty good indicator of the state of our profession. To keep the personalities out of this for now, what issues would you want debated? What are the themes resonating now that also will prepare us for a stronger future as the leaders of reputation management, storytelling and fair public discourse?
Following are some potential debate topics that Anderson Cooper and the like might ask PR leaders. Please chime in since it’s about all of us coming together for a brighter future, right?
- Social media as strategy: After all the Facebook likes and Twitter followers, what do you have to show for it? Does social media move our brands forward or are we wallowing in a false sense of popularity or unpopularity? How can we make social media communications more meaningful?
- Are we really that into Measurement? At a PR News conference in early October, roughly 90% of attendees said they did not know what the Barcelona Principles are. Does that mean communicators aren’t following those measurement guidelines, and is it beholden on senior leaders to ensure that all PR staff study and execute on this short list?
- Are we getting closer to integrated communications? How can Marketing and PR collaborate more effectively and how can we resolve the issue of who gets a bigger piece of the budgetary pie? In other words, why can’t we all just get along?
- Is the press release dead?: Media relations is a touchstone of Public Relations, but are reporters and other stakeholders reading press releases? We know the release is an important communications vehicle, so how can we make sure it’s leveraged effectively and is not the sole means of telling a story?
- Is voice communication losing its sway? With texting, social media, emoji mania and email communication representing the majority of daily interactions, are people forgetting how to talk to one another and how can PR lead the way?
- Is employee communications an HR thing? Though employees are on the front lines and the most likely brand ambassadors, what role does and should PR play internally?
- Can PR be tied to sales? We’re told that it can, but how are you proving this and once proven why are we not shouting it out from the rooftops? This goes back to my Measurement question earlier. Shouldn’t PR be a driver of sales?
- Why isn’t there more Diversity in PR? What more can we be doing so that at all voices are represented in this profession, that ethnic, racial and gender diversity are not a problem within our own ranks?
- PR advocacy: there are at least a handful of PR associations representing the industry, but are we doing enough within our organizations to evangelize the power of PR?
Let’s end the debate on a high note. Public Relations is stronger than ever, as evidenced by the growing number of people entering the profession, the increase in PR compensation year over year and the utilization of PR counsel at the highest levels of an organization. The issues we face, however, will continue to challenge our profession. Let’s deal with them head-on.
- Diane Schwartz
There are many reasons people use clichés, catchphrases and trendy words of the day: it’s a communications shortcut, and for the most part it’s not illegal. Those are the only reasons I can think of. So, as in years past I present to you the Epic List of Useless Words, Sayings and Retorts. This is a working list that I edit as I live my days – I’ve removed many contributions from the last year (we’ve made progress!) but have added many new phrases (let’s not get cocky!). The list also includes contributions from PR News blog readers because we’re in this together.
While the list below may smell to you of sarcasm, it’s meant to be a fresh look at communication gone bad. It’s directional and subjective, honest and yet disposable. There are a few items in this list that could actually get you in trouble, depending on the time, place and your body language. For the most part, though, it’s just a reminder that as communicators we can always aim higher.
Feel free to make additions to the list – I’m sure this is not complete:
THE EPIC LIST
“To be honest with you” (Now I don’t believe you)
During a conference call awaiting a response: “Sorry! I had you on mute.” (pay attention!)
During a meeting: “Can I interrupt?” (what if you said No?)
“I think we can definitely do that.” (this response does not inspire confidence)
“Oh, Millennials!” (blame it on an entire generation)
I’m literally _________ (just remove the word literally)
“Hashtag No Way” or “Hashtag First World Problem” (cute if you’re in high school, but, um, grow up!)
“I am sooo busy!” (aren’t you special? No one else is busy!)
In a press release: “the leading solution provider…” (no reporter believes this about your company)
During a brainstorming session: “We tried that last year and it didn’t work.” (second time can really be a charm)
“It is what it is.” (It is annoying)
“I personally feel.” (redundant, redundant)
“You need to be more passionate.” (You can’t make people feel passionate)
The word “social” as a noun, as in, “Acme does social really well.” (Being social means having friends, not selling product.)
“I’m a ____________ junkie.” (Since when is addiction a virtue?)
“I’m just doing what I’m doing.” (Redundancy will be the death of me.)
“We need to own social media.” (Um, the public owns social media. What you really mean is you need to tie your social media efforts to a bottom line, be it financial, social good or reputation.)
Guru (unless you are a spiritual leader or are the best of the best at something, find another descriptor)
“Going forward” (Meaning “from now on” as if you could also dictate past behavior)
“No offense” (Which means “I am about to offend you.”)
“I’m confused” (Which means “You’re confused and I am going to set you straight.”)
“Circle back” (Which means to bring your Conestoga wagon back into a circle.)
“With all due respect…” (Hearing that phrase, buckle-up: The words that follow will certainly bear no relation to “respect” or any recognized synonym.)
“At any rate…” (It is so seldom used in connection with a literal rate of any sort.)
“To make a long story short” (already makes your story six words longer.)
“I don’t hate that idea.” (Otherwise known as “let’s think about that more.”)
“We want to be in high-profile media” (…said everyone on earth that wants to be in any media.)
“How should we spin this?” (this is why PR’s reputation sometimes suffers)
“We need to be strategic.” (“Strategy” and “strategic” are so overused; no one explains what they mean by this, what the plan of action is or the tactics we’ll use to achieve the goal.)
“Let’s take a step back.” (It’s an early indicator that you are dealing with a conservative organization where innovation is outside their comfort zone.)
Irregardless (what’s wrong with “regardless”?)
Anyways (not a word)
“Don’t take this the wrong way/personally …” (well, now I am taking it that way)
“Out-of-the-box thinking” (cringe!)
“If you will” (No, I won’t)
“Open the kimono” (creepy)
“Drink the Kool-Aid” (just like those in Jonestown in 1978? I don’t think so!)
“Let’s talk offline” (but I’ll call you on your line after this meeting)
“Boil the ocean” (clever by half)
Awesome! (with or without !, better to not utter as a grown-up)
Ramp up. Tee up. Synch up. (Throw up.)
Synergy (don’t use in press releases, unless it’s the name of your company)
“Run it up the flagpole and see how it flies.”
“Skin in the game”
“Ping me.” (check with HR first)
“I’ve got a hard stop at _________” (When is your soft stop?)
“We have a horse in this race.” (Less painful than one’s own skin the game, but same principle.)
“Kill two birds with one stone.” (poor birds)
“Give 110%” (What is wrong with your math?)
Net-net (why both nets?)
“Put on your big girl panties.” (for so many reasons, best to not say this)
Utilizing (try “using”)
Transparency (Those who use this term are anything but transparent.)
From an agency exec to a client: “Of course, we can do all of that!” (sounds fishy, I don’t believe you; be specific on what you can do and what you might not be able to do. )
From a client to an agency rep: “I need a dashboard” (can you be more specific? Everyone’s asking for a dashboard and there are Mercedes dashboards and Pinto dashboards – which do you want?)
From an employee to her employer: “Where is my career going here?” (you should know, bring a plan to get there; don’t let your employer tell you who you should be)
From a CEO to his PR team: “Get us some good press.” And the PR exec’s response: “Consider it done.”
– Diane Schwartz
Let’s connect on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Why is it still newsworthy when PR is called to the rescue or joins a strategic team? “Pet Company Hires PR Firm to Clone Calico Cats” or “PR Counselor Recommends AshleyMadison.com to C-Suite” – now those would be worth writing about. To wit: there is still a jaundiced view of PR. To utilize PR is sometimes akin to admitting you’ve reached The Last Resort.
Part of the reason for this mentality is the media’s view of PR – the same journalists creating a news story out of a non-story are the journalists whose respect for PR is wavering at best. Surely there are outstanding relationships between PR pro and journalist. Enough rotten apples and we become spoiled, in a bad way.
Another reason PR is not yet elevated within an organization is a lack of strong and ongoing advocacy for PR. PR professionals are the go-to storytellers, writers, advisors, counselors, organizers, implementers and strategists — right?
Some heavy lifting is needed. We might start by dispelling these 5 myths about PR:
PR is nice to have but not need to have. The truth is that the strongest brands and reputations deploy smart public relations tactics that are seamlessly integrated into the core mission and culture.
PR people suck at math and finance. PR execs need to add metrics and measurement to the business conversations and hold PR accountable in front of senior management. We talk about measurement among ourselves – time to apply what you know to the conversations you have with the C-suite and marketing colleagues.
PR should not be seen — and needs to stay behind the scenes. Of course not. You have the advantage of context and clarity – there’s no reason you can’t be the spokesperson and certainly no reason why an organization shouldn’t be proud to have a smart PR counselor backing its reputation.
PR’s main role is media relations. Media relations is a subset of PR and not the end-all, be-all. While strong relationships with journalists are critical for many PR people, the Public in Public Relations includes those hanging out on social media, the employees in your organization and the people on Wall Street and Main Street. Change the conversation from positive media coverage to positive coverage.
What other myths would you add to the mix, and what are your suggestions for busting them?
– Diane Schwartz
Let’s follow each other on Twitter: @dianeschwartz
Subway must want this year to end quickly. Jared Fogle, the company-created celebrity spokesperson, this week agreed to plead guilty of traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor and the distribution and receipt of child pornography, according to the Associated Press. Sales were already falling. Now, with Fogle’s child pornography case, Subway has a worst-case-scenario PR problem.
Make that “public relations” problem.
For non-practitioners, “PR” has become synonymous with spin, obfuscation and corporate-sponsored scientific studies designed to facilitate sales. This perception reaches the C-suite, where PR is sometimes designated as a nice-to-have rather than a must-have.
Until a Jared Fogle moment comes along.
Fogle’s case sends shivers beyond Subway’s corporate headquarters in Connecticut and 21,000 franchises, to any organization that hovers over the border between a good reputation and a tarnished reputation. (In an upcoming issue of PR News’ weekly premium publication, editor Seth Arenstein will share possible ways forward for Subway from public relations thought leaders.)
That’s where all organizations exist—near that border. From the CEO to the customer service representative to the supplier’s floor manager in another hemisphere, every individual in or connected to an organization has the potential to damage it with acts done, words said or written, images shared. PR as it’s commonly perceived is merely a tourniquet, but thoughtful, effective public relations has clarity of purpose. It’s relating to the public, communicating with people, listening and responding—in good times and bad.
If you’re a public relations professional, you know this already, but do the executives who approve your budgets know this? Those executives need smart, effective public relations practitioners in their highest-level business meetings—before their Jared moment crashes through the window like a wrecking ball.
—Steve Goldstein, @SGoldsteinAI
The lines are blurry. As a communicator you are usually selling something – an idea, a story, an interview to the media, a budget, a campaign. To close on that effort – to get the story, win the account, score a larger budget – is a similar feeling your Marketing counterpart has when her campaign idea is approved or when a customer buys the product based on her messaging. And the salesperson down the hall from you? He is always prospecting, aims to be in front of clients or at least on the phone with them, understanding their pain points and their spending limits.
These three levers of Communications – PR, Marketing, Sales — are at their best when they’re working together, not separately. Most practitioners and strategists agree with the premise, but the underlying pain points, frustrations, budgetary constraints, conflicting goals may stop the three from even wanting to work together. I’ve posed the question in a previous post, Will PR and Marketing Get Married One Day? A lot of you responded and as a whole we’re in favor of this matrimony. But how about we go on a few dates first?
The best communicators will be the ones who have a firm grasp on Marketing, who partner with Sales to help close business, and who are pushing for consistent messaging across this spectrum. If you shy away from Sales or snub your nose at Marketing (that department that steals some of your budget), then you will be OK, possibly. That is to say, you can get by. But to be an extraordinary communications executive you need to spend some time in their shoes. Here are three easy things you can do in the next 30 days to narrow the gap and broaden your organization’s (and your own) opportunities:
Lead a Sales Call: Try to sell something to a client: ask your sales dept if you can sell your company’s service or product to one prospect. Set up the appointment, do your research, lead the meeting, close the business, send out the proposal, wait for the signature. Sometimes you’ll be waiting longer than expected for a signed contract and that’s part of the process and why the rewards taste so sweet.
Be a Marketer: Sit in on Marketing meetings and listen without your PR hat on. Understand how they measure success and manage budgets. Ask to work on a campaign in which you need to partner with the PR team. It’s not always easy to collaborate and see the other side. As a marketer, you may want to spend more on b-to-c advertising while PR is pushing for a media relations push with the trade press. Find common ground and share in the hits and misses.
Break Bread & Barriers: Set up monthly Integrated Communications Breakfasts. An early morning meeting of the minds where you are fresh and prepared could work wonders. Share current initiatives, report on performance of campaigns, ask for help and guidance. This will increase transparency and lead to more collaboration.
There’s nothing like coffee and bagels to smear away the friction that exists when three departments are used to eating alone.
– Diane Schwartz
The moving company that assisted with our house move last week sent us a hard-working crew. Hauling boxes and furniture to and fro, they didn’t spend much time chatting, but when they did they usually framed it in a question: “How am I doing?”
When Danny, the head mover, first asked me that question I thought he was asking how I was doing. After all, moving out of a house is stressful! Then I realized he wanted to know if he and his crew were meeting my expectations. Were they careful, efficient, polite? Danny wanted this feedback. He stood in my kitchen holding a big box labeled “Dishes,” and looked me in the eyes as he awaited my reply.
“How am I doing?”
After hearing from me that he was doing a great job, he and his crew continued the laborious task ahead of them. A few hours later, Danny asked me the same question and this time I thought harder about it and provided some specific feedback having to do with not scratching a certain wall. Over the course of this 10-hour whirlwind round-trip relationship we had with our movers, “How am I doing” was asked at least a handful of times.
In the course of a week, a month, a year, how often do you check in, one on one, with your customers, business partners, clients, journalists, colleagues and stakeholders and as them “How am I doing”? We are more accustomed to asking “How are you?” then we are “How am I doing?” It seems the former is more about them and the latter can appear self-serving or insecure. But what you’re really asking is “Are you satisfied and can I do better for you?” Of course, you have to be prepared to heed the feedback, which is sometimes not what you expected. That’s the point – and it’s well worth the heavy lifting afterwards.
– Diane Schwartz