Customer service needs PR support

You’d think that the current economic conditions would be a time when companies decide to focus more on customer service and their reputations – but it seems the opposite is the case and that caring is another victim of the “credit crunch”.

I know of several experiences where even good companies are demonstrating a total lack of consideration for their customers.  We’re constantly being informed that businesses are struggling to attain and retain customers – which is why they cannot afford to cut back in this vital area of public relations.

As an example, I’ve just been on the phone for 30 minutes (on an 0845 number which costs more than a local call) to my Abbey business bank.  It has decided to upgrade its online systems and now I cannot access my account and undertake any business.  The response is that there are problems with the system and that all I can do is call and ask for transactions to be undertaken by phone.  It simply isn’t good enough when you are trying to run a small business to have to spend time hanging on the phone just because a company has created a problem for its customers.

Even worse, a friend told me yesterday of how he had bought a present from John Lewis as a surprise for someone, only to discover that the supposedly reputable retailer had emailed the person the gift is intended for, with full details about the present.  The online help service claims it is nothing to do with them and the store also denies all responsibility – but how can this have happened and what is John Lewis doing to recompense my friend for the embarrassment and spoilt surprise?  Nothing.

Another example is a decision by B&Q not to honour some vouchers because these mention Woolworths on them and the parent company, Kingfisher sold that brand some years ago.  But the vouchers state no expiry date or other conditions, and B&Q is still a Kingfisher brand.  The store manager’s response is that the company’s board of directors has made this decision – even though it would appear to be illegal as the vouchers would appear to be valid to use. 

Why are companies behaving in this way when times are tough?  We can blame cut backs in staff and a focus on keeping every penny for themselves, but how stupid and short-sighted is this approach?

One thing that I am certain of is that when times are tough, those brands that truly appreciate the customers they have and go the extra few inches (let alone a mile), will be the ones where word of mouth and a positive reputation prevails.

If PR managers want to ensure their companies are survivors, they should be working closely with the customer relations departments and ensuring policies are not counter productive to creating the goodwill which is vital at this time.

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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.

4 thoughts on “Customer service needs PR support”

  1. Abbey’s customer service is poor to say the least. Alliance and Leicester’s, on the other hand and in spite of being owned by the same group, is very satisfying. I guess Santander Group hasn’t set any standards for its banks to follow when it comes to dealing with customers.

  2. Hi Heather,

    Really interesting point. I have to say I totally agree, especially with the emphasis that is being placed on the kudos of word-of-mouth; surely keeping customers happy and loyal (and therefore potentially acting as third-party advocates) at a base level has to be seen as an essential part of good public relations?

    Merry Christmas!

  3. The Kingfisher voucher thing deserves a post of its own. That’s absolutely shocking that they won’t honour them simply because the have the logo of their former group company on them.

    More needs to be done to educate people that buying vouchers is a BAD idea!

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