Public Relations is all about building relationships with the company, whether you’re a sole proprietor or a Fortune 500 corporation. This graphic shows the basics for the small business owner. Public relations practices aren’t limited to these four. Not included are government relations, employee relations, donor/member relations, multicultural relations and any other “public” you can think of. Other work includes crisis communication and planning, speeches, events, etc. All require brand development, strategic planning and message development-no matter the company size.
Let’s face it, when it comes to putting these bad boys in our mouth we really want to know who is doing it. My mom recently went to a new dentist. For the last THREE days she’s been talking about her experience and what great customer service they’ve provided.
First she dropped in on them in person. Hey, she’s retired, she’s got time. They indicated they did indeed take new patients and scheduled her for the NEXTday.
The first thing that blew her away was the phone call that evening. Joshua D.M.D himself called and asked if she had any questions about the next day’s appointment. Not a receptionist. Not even a hygienist. Her actual DENTIST called.
They had a tremendous sales package. If she purchased a plan, all her care would be discounted. Her first medical bill for her first exam and cleaning were the equivalent. So she signed up, and started saving.
At her appointment, they offered her a blanket because they know patients can get chilled.
The dentist noted a condition that she’s had for three years that could easily be addressed. She’d be asking her previous dentist, on deaf ears. The new guy discussed the overall health of all her teeth if this was done. She was so pleased she didn’t have to ask him!
At the end of her first visit they offered her a carnation. A free flower. First day.
For three days as some other thoughtful, caring act took place, she shared. What a great job of providing customer service.
When I looked up their website, they are committed to paying it forward.
Loved the customer service, how they took care of my mom and her needs. How does your dentist customer service measure up?
If you are engaging a speaker for your students, your event or your business, applying good public relations practices critical for your reputation. I’ve recently been on a public speaking circuit and/or had occasion to help others with their engagements. Thought I’d share some observations.
One of my closest friends teaches high school English. To engage her students in the story of Julius Caesar and Brutus, students were assigned a media relations challenge: conduct a media publicity campaign for either Caesar or Brutus and defend the case. Kids did great jobs: citizen on the street reaction to the death of Caesar, radio scoops interviewing “Brutus” and TV reality shows. For those who have forgotten their high school history, Brutus and Caesar were pals until Caesar started making like a king. Brutus thought a republic with fair representation a better way to go. Seeing his friend’s grandiose ideas, Brutus felt his only option was to take Caesar out-stabbed him in the back. About 3/4ths of the students supported Brutus and the push for democracy, even though killing was extreme. We talked about the challenge in public relations about taking on a client who goes against the administration and when that is appropriate, overcoming oppressive regimes.
My friend invited two of us working in the field of public relations to come “judge” the media efforts. We committed nearly three hours of our time to observe 4-50 students present their cases and provided feedback on the elements of persuasion and public relations they showcased. Gladly arranged my schedule to accommodate this educational endeavor.
But the high school administration became Brutus. My entire experience was ruined when I went to my car. You see I couldn’t find any parking upon arriving. I got to the school at the appointed time but couldn’t find parking and still had to negotiate signing in at the front office. The 6-8 visitor parking spots were all occupied, the street parking was full, so I parked in a spot clearly marked faculty. There were several open faculty spots, not like I was preventing faculty from parking closely. When I returned to my car an astrobright gold piece of paper was on my windshield. The note read
You have parked in a faculty designated parking spot. In future, park in the designated visitor parking. -High School Administration.
Clearly the administration knew I was a visitor and not a student. What an abysmal way to treat a visitor. I had to sign in and state my purpose as a guest. They knew why I was there–to share my expertise with their students. And yet, they left a nasty gram on my windshield. No one asked me where I parked when I checked in. But they sure wanted me to know where to park if I ever came back.
If the high school teacher who invited me wasn’t my best friend, I wouldn’t ever go back. I’ve painted a mural on the wall over a hot summer weekend for the class. This is the third year I’ve volunteered time to provide professional insight to student class work. And one moment could easily have ruined our relationship (mine with the school, not my friend). I told my friend about my disappointment, so this isn’t a surprise. But she wasn’t surprised either. The school administration’s heavy handed approach created a great analogy for the class assignment, fulfilling both Caesar and Brutus parts.
Your word and your reputation cannot afford a poor image when you’re a business owner. You might have the best bed and breakfast or the savviest bookkeeping skills or the cleanliest service, but if your referral reputation doesn’t match that, you could be out of business.
Know what’s being said about you and where. Check your reputation. They can manage negative comments for a price; you can see where you and your company are listed for free. They can also help you correct all the bad info out there. You’d be surprised what comes up. I did a search and one source had me working for a company I know, but have never worked for. Another client is battling outdated info. Some sources have her business location that’s been inaccurate for more than 10 years!
There are tons of review sites: Google Places, Yelp, Consumer Reports, AngiesList and hundreds more. They can be related to service, trips, professionals, teachers, the list is endless. Then several business sites such as Amazon.com and CraigsList also have review options. Your name and reputation could be anywhere. Know it. Check it regularly.
If your business is getting less than stellar or 5 star ratings, here are a few recommendations on how to address:
- If there is a system problem, fix it. Make sure cleaning staff have maps to location. Call two days ahead to confirm date and time and location for service or reservation. Address the scheduling needs for the client. Whatever it is that leads to the common complaints, address. It’s amazing how a poor tracking system or timing can impact customer service.
- If there was a lack of clarity for coupon test services like Groupon, be sure to clarify the expectations for any further patrons. Sometimes the expectations aren’t clear and so the client gets disappointed
- Reach out to every client on the bad reviews, assuming you can identify them and offer a compensation for their service challenges. Either another stay, a free meal, something to try to make it work.
- Take advantage of using the owners comment section to indicate how you were willing to fix this situation. You should apologize on each one and not leave them hanging. DO NOT ARGUE as the owners response. If you disagree with their assessment, don’t say so on a public comment. That just starts a disagreement war and you’ll lose. Perception is key; they didn’t like the service, doesn’t matter what went wrong. I’d use language to the effect:“ We are sorry you experienced service that didn’t meet your expectations. We have improved our follow up system and are providing staff clear directions. We are adjusting our schedule to address delays. We want you to be satisfied with your service and are willing to make it up to you if you’ll give us a chance.” If they take you up on it, you may or may not salvage a client. But if you at least show you are willing to try, anyone else reading the review can take that into account.
- Don’t use the exact same language on each, address the biggest concern and tell them how you’d like to fix it.
- Contact the review site directly. Check if they filtered” positive comments; if the positives are legitimate, then ask the review site to put them up. Understand that if you get friends to put up comments all on the same day as the negative, that can be filtered.
- If any of the negative reviews aren’t accurate or you have a different perception of what actually happened you can actually challenge the review with most review sites—but you may not be successful.
It’s tough to please clients. You might also consider sending each client a follow up email after their service and ask for a review on the site you preferand provide them to the link. You could do this every Friday or something. Make it easy. Send it to the clients who love your work and your staff at first. But get in the habit of sending to all clients; checking the reviews and RESPONDING to them—good or bad.
Just remember to always respond to negatives. Try to make it right. Get in the habit of seeking positive comments. Pay attention to what’s being said about you. It matters. It’ll save your reputation.
To find out what your clients want, sometimes the best thing to do is ask them. Take advantage of the survey options available. You can go to online tools like such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang. Depending on budget you can mail, do phone, in person.
Who knew you could go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and get great customer service? With state budget cuts and eliminated services the experience at the DMV could have been a nightmare. But Nevada has done some extraordinary work.
First service oriented feature is on their website: at the top of the home page they provide a rough timeline of expected waiting periods for every town. This could help those with limited lunch hours for personal errands to plan accordingly. It’s not a perfect solution to the need for wait times, but geez I’d love to see a doctor’s office pull that off.
Once there I stood in line to get a number. Got my number and an idea of all the forms needed from the helpful staff. Waited the 40 minutes projected from the website. I was able to get caught up on social media and email while there. Brought a book, but never got to it. When I got to the counter, there was a problem with the VIN number–the insurance number didn’t match the dealer’s form. Past customer service problems would have required me to leave, go figure out my insurance and come back. Instead the staff were prepared to make my auto registration a success. The clerk gave me a fax number for me to give to the auto company. While I called them, she continued the paperwork. SHE was faster than the insurance company. We got my driver’s license renewal taken care of while waiting for the insurance. The document still hadn’t arrived but I didn’t lose my place or have to go back. The process allowed for me to sign an affidavit that I would have insurance. She gave me a form to verify that my insured status moved from pending to confirmed from the convenience of my own. Any one of these steps could have created a service nightmare, but service was actually the answer for the day.
Customer service isn’t just employing nice staff—it’s providing solutions BEFORE there’s a problem; it’s anticipating what will be convenient and mitigating what won’t. And it’s assuring staff are focused on customer needs, empowered to make decisions and have ownership in the results.
Phone banks–large group of people calling through your list with a call to action of some sort–are really effective. They work for Get Out the Vote efforts for candidates; dialing for dollars for non-profits; or even for small businesses doing a customer service survey or other activity. Better than social media, better than mail. Not quite as good as in-person (really hard to tell someone know when they ask you to do something face-to-face). Very effective. Especially in the age of email, text and social media where we communicate, but not really.
But they need to be done well.
- Write a script. But write like people talk. “Hi, my name is Alison, a volunteer with x. How are you tonight?”. Breathe. (Yes, write “breathe/space” in the script). “Is Juana available?” Wait for response.
- Create natural spacing gaps so the caller can make the call more natural conversation and not just reading the script. I’ve conducted many a phone bank and wait patiently for the poor soul who has to read the entire thing. I listen to them because they have a job to do (paid or volunteer, it’s still not easy work and people are nasty). But geez, let me get in edge wise–hey I work for that company, really I already gave at the office.
- TRAIN THE PHONE BANKER. Whether you are asking for people to vote, or to donate to a cause or as a business seeking input from customers, make sure the people making the calls are equipped to not read the script in a monotone. They have to make it conversational. And talk naturally. If they have to read the script line by line, make sure they can do so where it sounds real not read.
- Make information about frequently asked questions available and assure your call team are able to answer questions, at least some simple ones.
- Be sure the script indicates the approximate length of call and purpose. “Not calling for a donation [unless of course you are], just want to give you information about the election (or ask your opinion about company xyz). This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”
- Track the type of call–you should have a mechanism to know if it’s the wrong number, the party moved or died (happens and is creepy=prep the caller on what to say!). Mark if there is a language barrier, if the number is disconnected, if the recipient even likes your company or not. Ideally you’ll respect the “do-not-call” and have a list management system. Even customers you have had for years may just hate phone calls at home they aren’t expecting; doesn’t mean they don’t want to be a customer, they just don’t want to be called at home. Find another way to connect with them. And don’t call them the next time. Scores a lot of points.
- Use staff/volunteers who can smile while making the call. Makes a difference and can generate the right tone and approach to reaching your voter/donor/client and getting them to take that call of action whether it’s voting, giving, or sharing.
Calling people to ask them to do something works. And well. But be very careful about the reason you do a phone bank: GOTV comes with every election; donations may or may not work via phone; surveys can be done other ways. It’s worse to do a bad phone bank and not get good results than it is to try another communication tactic. Know your audience. And train your peeps. And when someone calls you for a market survey or a phone bank–recognize they are just doing a job and don’t take your frustrations out on them. Makes for better experiences all the way around.