Customer service is a PR issue

Poor customer service is a major reputational issue – but doesn’t seem to be taken seriously as a responsibility of public relations in many organisations, instead it is seen as part of operations or marketing, with PR handling media fall-out.  This reactive strategy in PR is surprising given the ability of the traditional media and online bloggers/new media to highlight problems that can easily become critical strategic issues or crises.

As an example, look at the  broadband fiasco.  Today it is slated by the The Observer as the headline company in its new  Why are We Waiting campaign to highlight companies failing to deliver on customer service.  On Friday it was named as recipient of the first “Tony” award as “the worst of the worst” for customer service by .  Earlier this month, research company JD Power rated TalkTalk at the bottom of its satisfaction ratings.

The Guardian cites a “Talk Talk spokeswoman” justifying the company’s strategy for dealing with customer service problems: ‘If you’re on a train and you’re told there’s a delay, you don’t feel happy. If you’re told why there’s a delay and when you’re going to set off, at least you know what’s happening and that someone’s working on it…” She also claims “next year, we intend to become just as clearly the leader in customer service as we are in the customer offer.”

This “leadership” is not evidenced by negative reactions among stakeholders.  In November 16% was wiped off the shareprice with the defection of Vodafone, Carphone’s biggest and longest-standing client to rival Phones 4U.  I also hear that employees were concerned as the boss, Charles Dunstone rarely keeps them up to date on news – and was a rare sighting at the HQ. 

Similarly, Dunstone has been lax in updating his – or rather the clog (corporate blog) since it is clearly not the hand of the man itself – nor does it allow any feedback postings.  His last entry apologising for not updating the blog is dated 17 November.  In fact there are fewer than 18 entries since it started in April – not exactly demonstrating a commitment to corporate blogging.

In contrast a blog set up by a frustrated customer – http://www.talktalkhell.org/ – is a lively forum of problems.  With no engagement from the company with these vocal publics.

Clearly a PR strategy which understands the impact of stakeholder relationships, online social media/networks and reputation management is urgently required. 

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “Customer service is a PR issue”

  1. I recently took a mobile phone deal out through a, now defunct, online company. I phoned to ask when to redeem my vouchers.(One of these ‘half price deals’ where in reality you’re sending in vouchers on certain months, if you can remember in time that is.)

    Anyway, much sighing eminated down the telephone line by said lazy employee, who said I should know when to send my vouchers in.

    I phoned the company back to ask to speak to the manager. The guy on the phone said I had been “curt” to his employee. I asked to speak to the manager again, to which he replied ” I am the managing director.”

    Needless to say, me, and countlesss others, lost their money back option when the company went into liquiation shortly after my phone conversation.

    I can’t work out if their customer service was non-existent or it was a case of a SME gone wrong; with no idea that the management can’t fufil all the roles by themselves, PR being one of them.

  2. Not surprising either way that this company was soon out of business – probably being in trouble caused it to launch the promo which it then found it couldn’t honour, getting it further into problems. Not a lot that even the best PR people can do with a “pig’s ear” of a company like this.

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