PR – A Great Thing, but Not a Miracle Worker

It’s a funny thing about PR…sometimes it’s viewed like other professions that people have a love/hate relationship with – like law enforcement, insurance providers, lawyers. Or like those that people expect magic from – beauticians, plastic surgeons, teachers.

Here’s the thing. Anything can be branded, marketed, promoted. Anything can get a first look. But public relations won’t make or break your business without a little help from you.

Stop making your PR department/firm/executive the scapegoat for your crappy products.

It’s not our job to convince people that your products are good when they aren’t. We don’t “dumb people down.” PR isn’t to blame if you can’t sell. PR isn’t to blame if your product doesn’t do what you promised – or told us to promise. Even Apple can’t pull that off.

I’m not being over sensitive. I’ve been in this business long enough – heading into my 15th year of owning my own firm – to recognize the unbelievable expectations that executives can have about PR. And I’ve seen many executives that don’t get PR at all – who have no idea that their CMOs are throwing money out the door jumping from agency to agency trying to find the right match.

I also know that PR agencies can seem like a dime a dozen. There’s one on every block like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I know that it can be tough to find the right match – chemistry with the team – on your first try. But if you or your marketing head have gone through more than two agencies in 12 months, maybe it’s time to take a look inside.

Here’s a few things you can expect a good PR team to accomplish:

  • Get your products in front of the “right people” – those can vary, but for most companies it means reporters, bloggers, analysts and others who influence the buying decisions of your prospects.
  • Connect executives with these folks for personal meetings/briefings/interviews – beginning and helping to maintain a more personal relationship.
  • Get these influencers to listen – based on long standing relationships and/or the talent to understand what they want, how they want to be connected with, what they care about, etc.
  • Give you inside views on where to be (events, online and off) to connect with the right folks who can help you – whether it’s media, VCs, analysts, customer/prospects, partners – a good PR team can help with all of those, making sure your valuable time isn’t wasted, and that you’re not missing anything crucial.
  • Help you write, message, brand and promote what you want to say in a more eloquent manner.
  • Help “roll out the red carpet” for sales by spreading awareness of you, your company, your products consistently, and in the right places. Ideally, PR sets the stage so that when a sales executive walks into a deal, the prospect says, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of you – I see you guys everywhere.” That’s always a nice start.

Here’s you should not expect PR to do:

  • Get people to keep using your product if it’s not working right.
  • Cover up bad customer service – certainly we can try to help fix a crisis, but this shouldn’t be the ongoing plan.
  • Work in a black hole – share information with your PR team and trust them to help you come up with the best, most strategic plan on what information should be communicated, to who, how, where and when.
  • Make reporters personally like you.
  • Tell reporters what to write. We can give them facts, we can encourage certain angles. But they’re not puppets and we’re not puppet masters.
  • Be responsible for repeat buyers. That’s your job – through great customer service, good products, stellar relationship management. We’re matchmakers of sorts – we get people interested but it’s up to you to maintain the relationship.

Of course, good PR executives can help with more than these things – it’s just a quick list. We can help you maintain relationships to a certain degree. But we’re not miracle workers. If your product or service isn’t working right or your customer service team isn’t treating customers well, don’t blame PR. Understand – and manage – the difference between positioning communications and information, vs product development, customer service and executive management. Too often, PR is blamed when all three don’t come together well.

What do you expect from PR?

 

 

 

Persuasive Picks for week of 5/21/12

When consumers go online, they expect to receive the same personalized attention they get face-to-face, with engaging experiences throughout their decision-making process. To create those engaging online experiences, MarketingProfs guest blogger Jim Dicso gives readers Five Reasons to Create Online Videos for Your Customers.

Did you know that social media users who receive excellent service from their favorite brands go on to spend, on average, 21 percent more than non-social customers? Shea Bennett at AllTwitter posts more interesting findings from a recent study in Why First Class Customer Service Is The Key To Social Media Success [INFOGRAPHIC].

Looking for Sure-fire ways to improve your brand’s social presence? Social Media Strategist Stephanie Sholnik offers solutions to maximize your productivity to ensure your social media efforts are paying off and benefiting the business on iMediaConnection.

Social Media Overload? Focus on Your Audience, Not the Tools writes Steve Goldstein of The PR News Blog in his latest post that takes a look at how PR professionals can manage it all and show proof that the time invested in each platform is paying off on the bottom line.

Brand Loyalty, Apologies, Best Buy and More

I like positive customer experiences, but who doesn’t? It’s nice when a brand or company understands you and your needs. It’s refreshing when that same brand or company takes it a step further and reaches out to you—engages you. Simply put—it makes you feel valuable. And with the advent of social media, it’s a no-brainer for brands and companies alike to use powerful social networking sites (ie: Facebook, Twitter, etc) to help build brand loyalty, create conversations, or increase transparency and authenticity. There are numerous other important reasons why the integration of social media is beneficial, but as Christine Perkett, CEO and Founder of PerkettPR, wrote back in 2009 (yes—2009, that’s just how on the forefront PerkettPR is and continues to be), it’s Beating a Dead Social Media Horse.

ZapposWhile some brands are smarter and more savvy than others (@Zappos and @VirginAmerica I’m talking to you), there are still some brands that don’t get it. Brands need to go beyond simply having a Facebook and Twitter account. This is obvious. In fact, brands need to go beyond the infamous social media catchphrase “engagement.” Talk with me, not at me. Engagement is crucial but once achieved, what’s next? Well, social networking has redefined the consumer—and has clearlycreated a new breed of brand advocates. Studies show that at least 40% of a brand’s consumers are advocates and Virgin America90% of consumers trust recommendations from advocates (Zuberance, 2011). Brands need to start turning their social consumers into their loyal brand advocates. It’s one of the most powerful ways a brand can stand out.

This now brings me to my recent consumer experience with Best Buy. Before this experience, I have to admit, my interactions with the retail giant were pleasant. Sure, no brand-consumer relationship can be entirely perfect, but it was nonetheless positive. In fact I considered myself as someone who usually liked and was loyal to shopping at Best Buy (I’ve bought a washer, dryer, and two televisions there). And after much research, thought, and consideration, my husband and I purchased a wall mount for our television from Best Buy.

Without being too long-winded, a quick recap of the events that followed

  • We bought the mount, brought it home, and then a couple of days later Geek Squad came to install it.
  • Upon installation, we were told we had purchased the wrong wall mount (the wall mount we were instructed to buy). We’d have to buy another, more expensive one. Lucky for us, Geek Squad has one on their truck.
  • During installation we were told we would need an electrician to put the electrical cord through the wall, which was the first we had heard of this throughout the process. Didn’t someone at the store tell you, you would need one? Nope.

Even at this point, I felt okay. Things happen. People get confused. It’s fine. We’d figure it out.

It wasn’t until I lugged the old wall mount back to the store to return it that I ran into some issues. There were some financing and coupon issues that made the return tricky. The customer service associate who was very nice made photo copies of my receipts, credit card, and took down my number saying his manager would call me back once it was all straightened out.

Great. Sounded good to me.

Best BuyI waited all day. No call. I followed up that night at 8:00 pm. I waited on hold for 15 minutes before I got a “live person” at the store. She transferred me to customer service where the phone rang, and then I was transferred back to the same person. She transferred me again. And then I was on hold. Again. At some point I hung up and called back. Got the same “live person.” She transferred me. Again. On hold. This cycle lasted for nearly two hours. I finally hung up and tried calling back. The store was closed.

Now I was frustrated. Not only did I waste cell phone minutes, but I wasted my night trying to follow up to see if the billing situation was taken care of. I wondered when it became okay to ignore customers? I tweeted my frustrations to @BestBuy and got a response from @Coral_BestBuy saying she hoped the store picked up and answered my questions. And then the following day, I got a tweet from the actual store @BestBuyDanvers blaming their phone systems, which I didn’t fully believe. Upon receiving this tweet, I called the store and spoke to the person who had tweeted to me from the store. I then had to re-explain the entire situation. He apologized. Said the “live person” I spoke to was new. And that they were understaffed. He said he would call me back in a half an hour with some answers.

In less than half an hour he called me back, said sorry, and put me on the phone with another customer service agent who then sorted out the situation. Issue resolved.

The whole experience left me feeling used and annoyed. A “sorry” just didn’t feel good enough. And when I finally did speak to that person from the store the next day, re-explaining the situation, I pointed out to the associate that up until the night before, I appreciated how nice everyone at Best Buy was to me.

Even when I had to return the wrong mount. Even when no one told me about needing to hire an electrician. Even when the sales associate couldn’t fully process my return. Even when no one called me back. Even when I waited on hold for almost two hours. Even after all the missing information and empty promises, I did appreciate the kindness of the gentleman who sold me the mount, the Geek Squad technicians, and the customer service associate who tried to do my return.

But to my surprise, the associate told me it didn’t matter how nice people were, because these events during this transaction should not have happened.

He was right—they should not have happened. Although I did appreciate Best Buy’s quick response to me on Twitter and “engaging” with me, I did tweet back saying I’d have to rethink other retail options for future purchases, to which I got a reply:

@BestBuyDanvers

It was yet another “sorry” which, I didn’t respond to because I was ready to move on.

But a couple hours later @Coral_BestBuy tweeted me—she wasn’t about to give up on me as quickly:

@Coral_BestBuy

I sent her my email. And we’ll just see what happens next.

I understand companies, large and small, are going to disappoint their consumers at times, but it’s how the company reacts to those failures which ultimately determines which consumers will stay loyal and which consumers will go.

So my fellow social consumers— I want to know about your negative retail experience and how a company successfully handled it?  How did they win you back? What did they do right? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATE:

@Coral_BestBuy called to follow up with me. She appreciated my tweets and blog post about my shopping experience. Coral asked me if she could use them to share and educate the Best Buy corporate team about how to handle future transactions and issues that may arise. I, of course, agreed because after all—the purpose of this outreach was to help Best Buy while alerting my fellow social consumers.

She then offered me a $75 Best Buy gift card which is a nice sentiment, considering it will force me to have to enter Best Buy again and make another purchase. Or maybe, just maybe– I will save myself the frustration and gift it to someone else.

Define Trust. Not So Easy, Is It?

Yesterday I presented at the Social Media & Community 2.0 Strategies Conference in Boston, where I was lucky enough to have some great folks attend my session. They asked thought-provoking questions and provided insightful feedback – which is always appreciated. One of my industry friends, Michael Pace, asked me a question at the end of my presentation, and it sparked a longer discussion among some of us after the event.

What is trust?

Michael said that he keeps hearing all the social media “gurus” at conferences like this, SXSW and others, talk about “trust” in their presentations, but no one seems to define it. He has a “three-pronged” idea of trust – which if we’re lucky, he’ll post in the comments here – but no one in the room could agree on one solid definition of trust, and how brands build it. Do people really trust brands? What does that entail? How is it earned, and how is it lost? Michael is focused on customer service and support at work, and thus, it’s a question he ponders on an ongoing basis. The topic definitely made for a lively discussion around branding, marketing, customer service, customer care and social business.

I said that I thought trust was sincere intent followed by consistent, related action. If a brand tells me something, and consistently backs it up, I trust them. It’s not so different from my personal relationships, really. You can make all the promises in the world, and say all the sweetest things, but if your actions don’t reflect your words, I won’t trust you.

Chris Brogan wrote a lot about trust in his book, “Trust Agents.” He uses phrases and words like sincerity, adding value and being truthful in regards to trust. I don’t know if he answers “what is trust” specifically, rather he and his co-author Julien Smith, seem to define its attributes. But what is its definition? Chris, if you’re reading (which would make my day), Michael and I thought you’d be the perfect person to ask …

Dictionary.com uses words such as reliance, which I thought was interesting, as well as confident expectation.

So what is trust? Is it sincerity? Action? Commitment? Faith? How do you earn it? Better yet, how do you keep it? For something that is so often discussed, so hard to earn, so easy to lose, and really super hard to gain back once you’ve done so, you’d think we’d all have a pretty definitive answer.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, readers. Thanks, as always, for visiting and commenting.

Changing the definition of CRM – marriage, not management

Some companies really get customer relations and service and make it the lifeblood of their culture. Zappos, Virgin America, Southwest Airlines, LL Bean, Amazon, Starbucks and my local Walgreens are a few brands that come to my mind when I think of customer-centric brands. But why do they seem to be the exception rather than the rule? These businesses understand the value in making a customer feel important at every interaction – not just the sale.

Customer service and CRM (customer relationship management) are often described separately in business but in today’s customer-centric organization, service is but one part of CRM. CRM is most often described as a technology process, and many companies – especially small businesses – therefore don’t think of it as applicable to their organization. They may Google the term and be immediately overwhelmed with articles full of terms like software, implementation, SaaS and enterprise. Wikipedia’s definition states, “It [CRM] involves using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales activities.”

I like to think that the definition of CRM today goes well beyond technology. I did a recent webinar on the topic of CRM with a panel of really intelligent tech leaders, including a former editor of CRM Magazine, a former CRM analyst and an executive from CRM software vendor, Sugar CRM. These guys are very smart and we covered some great topics – including software, customer service and even social CRM. But we only touched upon the fact that CRM is more than tech.

CRM is the lifeblood of how everyone in your organization manages and maintains relationships with customers.

  • Do you want more customers?
  • Do you care about repeat customers?
  • Do you you want to have a relationship, not just a deal, with your customers?
  • Do you want to see more revenue come in the doors of your business, or higher figures in your next raise as a result?
  • Do you like it when happy customers refer your business, service or products?
  • Do you care when unhappy customers take to social networks like Twitter or reputable business management entities such as The Better Business Bureau to complain about your business?

Then you care about CRM. And so should your employees – not just the sales team.

In that same webinar I suggested perhaps it would help businesses to think of the “M” in CRM as “marriage,” rather than management. What I mean by that is to really think about your customers as a long term commitment. Don’t “manage” them so much as keep wooing them, romancing them with outstanding products and services, and keep the love alive.

To do that successfully, every employee plays a role in treating customers right. Not just sales, not just customer service, not just the cashier at the counter and most certainly not a piece of software. Don’t leave it up to just one department. If the customer is treated poorly by just one employee in your organization, THAT is the experience they will remember. THAT is the experience they will share with their friends. Think of all the marketing, advertising and sales dollars that fly out the door – wasted – when that happens.

Here’s an example. A customer in a retail store is shopping and a salesperson on the floor stops to politely help. The customer spends an hour with the salesperson – finding more than they originally were seeking, but so pleased with the experience that she decides to buy everything that the salesperson has suggested. The customer heads to the cashier and the line is long. There is one cashier. The customer waits longer than she was happy with but nonetheless, makes it to the counter. When she gets there, the cashier is grumpy, rude and impatient, especially when the customer asks if she can have some boxes with her purchase. In response to the rudeness, the customer decides to leave all the items on the counter and walk away from the purchase. She decides that, now that she knows what she wants, she can easily go online and order it elsewhere rather than fork over her hard-earned money to a business who will treat her as though she doesn’t matter.

Another example is an airline. There are multiple exchanges with customers during just one purchase. There is the point of purchase, the airport experience and the experience on the plane. Say a customer finds a great deal on a flight.  He checks in at the airport and sails through security. He’s happy. But on the plane, the flight attendant is snappy and condescending when he tries to order food – and her attitude gets no better, sighing whenever asked for something and generally making him – and all other passengers – feel as though they are an inconvenience. Since he can’t express himself on the plane for fear of escalation, he takes to Twitter and Facebook after his flight, encouraging his 15,000 “friends” that no matter how inexpensive, the experience with that airline isn’t worth it and that they should spend their money with another airline.

Forget what you know and are probably thinking about typical customer behaviors, point of purchase abandonment statistics, or how far reaching (or not) just one customer’s influence is on what percentage of people. Forget about the traditional definition of CRM. Again, instead ask yourself if you care about sales, customers and revenue. Do you care about reputation and brand management? Do you care about the highest return on your marketing and advertising investments?

If the answer is yes, then teach your employees – not just sales or customer service – what CRM means and what role they play in it for your organization. How do you want customers to feel after an interaction with your business? What role does each employee play in making that happen every time? How flexible are policies? What do you want most from your customers and why?

From the point of sale to the marketing department, billing to service issues, every employee is crucial to making CRM work for your business.  It’s about the way prospects find you, why they listen and how they are wowed enough by your business to become customers. It is why your customers become repeat customers. And it’s about the way happy customers tell their friends. As it is in any relationship, you’ve got to keep working at it to keep it great. Don’t take it for granted and make sure you communicate well.

“Customer-centric” just isn’t enough anymore. Technology doesn’t manage relationships on its own. Rather, the best businesses will embrace a new type of CRM throughout their organization – showcasing customer commitment at every level.