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
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
- 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