Platform: Personal PR will engender real customer loyalty - With customer service such a major part of company strategy, brand management must involve the whole organisation, says Ian Ryder

PR is a very powerful weapon in the communications armoury of any organisation - but it is absolutely useless if at the point of delivery - the moment of truth - the customer experience is at variance with expectation.

PR is a very powerful weapon in the communications armoury of any

organisation - but it is absolutely useless if at the point of delivery

- the moment of truth - the customer experience is at variance with

expectation.



Almost every chief executive or senior director with whom I have

discussed current business imperatives has agreed that customer loyalty,

however defined, is the real current goal. What few have yet grasped -

although they do once the concept is explained - is that every single

employee in their organisation is in some responsible for this

outcome.



There is much healthy debate on whether or not customer satisfaction is

a valid measure and on what constitutes customer loyalty - how can this

be the same across all industry sectors?



There is, however, no doubt whatsoever that the creation and sustaining

of a ’loyal’ customer base is the goal of all organisations with a

commercial motive. The fact that 75 per cent of a company’s stock price

is directly or indirectly affected by your image and reputation, and the

total perception of your company comes from a dynamic, rather than

static, encounter means that whatever your views on satisfaction and

loyalty, companies ought to seriously consider their approach to brand

management.



Many companies are putting in place so-called ’customer service’

departments whose primary role is to placate irate customers or deal

positively with the currently less irate ones who just need help.

However, if this is simply a cardboard cut-out front-end and the

fundamental business processes aren’t in place to support it, what

happens?



Today’s consumer (and employee/investor etc) has wider expectations and

is more knowledgeable than ever before and should your (ostensibly)

non-customer facing processes collapse, or not recognise that they

deliver part of the total brand experience, public relations departments

will be working overtime.



To help understand this, consider that the way people relate to you

personally in business is based on conscious and unconscious statements

you make about yourself - your personal PR. The way you dress, your

phone manner, your efficiency, the way you phrase a letter, greet

people, even the company you keep, all affect the impression you make on

others.



From a corporate viewpoint why should this be any different? Your

corporate identity and offices, how do you treat people on the phone,

what is the level of organisational efficiency, and how do you treat

your correspondence and your reception area and process?



The major difference is that while you and you alone are in control of,

and responsible for, the personal impression, there are many people and

processes involved in the corporate impression.



Mark McCormack once said: ’none of us is perfect, we know that from time

to time things will go wrong, but it is the impression already made

which allows us the freedom to be occasionally less than perfect.’



A real ’root and branch’ brand management system involving the whole

organisation’s processes is the heartland and future of true brand

management.



The reality is that it is people who deliver on most brand value

promises - and unmanaged brands are extremely fragile.



Ian Ryder is director of communications and public affairs at

Hewlett-Packard.



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