Platform: Empty promises will tarnish PR’s image - Firms that renege on promises of customer service risk losing customer confidence and undermine PR work, says Brian Hamill

Changes of corporate identity are all too often cosmetic, with new logos and refurbished offices merely the icing on the same old cake. The public is right to be suspicious of companies that claim their corporate relaunch will herald better and brighter customer service. We all remember BR’s ’we’re getting there’ campaign with its smart new logo, but when passengers failed to notice any discernible service improvements, BR was widely and publicly derided.

Changes of corporate identity are all too often cosmetic, with new

logos and refurbished offices merely the icing on the same old cake. The

public is right to be suspicious of companies that claim their corporate

relaunch will herald better and brighter customer service. We all

remember BR’s ’we’re getting there’ campaign with its smart new logo,

but when passengers failed to notice any discernible service

improvements, BR was widely and publicly derided.



Midland’s #15 million advertising campaign seeks to allay public

suspicions that changes of corporate identity are ’all hype’, by

resurrecting its claim to be ’the listening bank’ with an extensive

programme of customer service initiatives. This move is understandable.

Almost 70 per cent of customers who leave an organisation do so because

of indifferent service, compared to 20 per cent who leave for reasons of

quality and price. Moreover, customers are prepared to pay ten per cent

more for the same product but with better service. Defaulting on

customer service promises is a serious business. Customers who feel

cheated are far more likely to switch their business elsewhere than

those who are pleasantly surprised by more unassuming companies.



PR agencies that promote the customer service capabilities of their

clients also need to understand how poor service can undermine even the

most carefully crafted PR campaign. If your client cannot live up to its

promises, it is your campaign that will be seen to have failed. Because

of this, some agencies are turning to customer service specialists to

help their clients build - and live up to - a reputation for world class

customer service.



But, too often, the PR people are only brought in once a campaign’s

credentials have been discredited and customer service failings have

escalated into a major problem.



Customer service problems, of course, have the potential to escalate

into full-blown PR crises. South West Trains’ staffing problems or

British Gas’ failed billing systems are recent examples. In both cases,

earlier claims to improved service levels fanned the resulting furore.

The lesson is simple: while it is vital to have contingency plans for

firefighting and crisis management, it is better to get things right in

the first place.



Becoming truly customer-focused may involve a major overhaul of a

company’s business processes. The key to success with any customer

service initiative is four-pronged and consists of:



- research: to discover what customers and employees think about the

business



- planning: to devise an effective change management programme



- training: to ensure your employees have the technical and behavioural

capabilities to implement those changes



- communication: to keep employees informed of impending changes and to

maintain confidence and morale.



This will lead to the creation of a highly motivated, responsive

workforce with the skills to deliver a sophisticated and effective

customer care programme.



Customers now have more choice and are more discerning than ever. They

expect and demand high levels of service and are quick to condemn

companies where customer service is mere marketing speak. Given that the

credibility of both client and agency can be so quickly damaged by

service failure, there is a pressing need for PR agencies to ensure

their clients truly practice what they preach.



Brian Hamill is joint managing director of customer service consultancy

MSB.



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