Is Customer Service the new Public Relations?
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At the recent CRM Evolution conference, several of the speakers developed the concept that “Customer Service is the new Public Relations” (several others have written about it as well). Broadcasting your messages before and then listening only after the sale is no longer an appropriate segmentation. Companies need to provide a seamless customer experience, integrate the PR and CS efforts, and engage with customers from the beginning of the relationship.
I like that concept and have been pondering on it. It seems to be obviously the right thing to do. What are the obstacles for that to be implemented in real life?
Business People still afraid customers only complain
I asked a friend who owns a company reselling IT equipment (B2B) about her thoughts on tearing down the silos and segmentation in the customer interface. She tells me that there is too much risk customers and prospects would share sensitive information (such as price discount levels) and gain leverage against her or negatively influence other prospects (for example, by sharing limitations or deployment challenges for a specific solution).
“But wouldn’t the upside offset those risks?” I asked. She said “when things work, customers go back to their business. They are too busy to share the good news. Customers only talk when there are problems.”
Whether we agree or not, I don’t think she is alone in that thinking. Companies are aware of the power of customer advocacy and want to capture Case Studies in paper, but they hesitate in promoting and amplifying peer-to-peer interaction among the customer and prospect bases for fear they will share bad news.
Customers are positive and like to spread good news
Then a few days ago, my friend Munish Gandhi (@munishgandhi) shared a link to a recent Customer Service survey by American Express Barometer.
Importantly, customers are spreading the word willingly and widely when they experience good service. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, customers are more inclined to talk about a positive experience than complain about a negative one. Three-quarters (75%) are very likely to speak positively about a company after a good service experience in contrast with 59% who are very likely to speak negatively about a company after poor service.
So customers are more likely to talk about positive experiences than to complain about negative ones. Those results are in line with several other studies and surveys that conclude that people naturally tend to be positive/optimistic in average.
Breaking the silos
Why the disconnect between perceptions and reality? I believe the source of the bias is that the negative experiences in customer service tend to escalate up the management chain and gain visibility within organizations. When customers are happy, the classical company ignores them (and lose the opportunity to leverage customer advocacy – a fundamental aspect of Social Business). That is a problem in company attention focus, not in customer behavior.
Before we can accept the elimination of customer interaction silos so that Customer Service can be the new Public Relations and vice-versa, companies must acknowledge that the new social customer shares information with their peers whether we promote that conversation or not.
We also need to join the optimistic majority and believe that there is more upside than downside in promoting peer-to-peer customer interaction and amplifying the resulting conversation.
Customers want to spread the good news. We need to let them do it freely.
So, Companies, tear down that wall.