“Don’t mess with bees!” It’s a lesson most of us learn when quite young—often the hard way. Much like customers, bees will be docile and harmless if you don’t irritate them. In fact, bees only sting when they feel threatened or you make them mad. Sound anything like a customer you’ve experienced? Giving clients the respect they deserve is the heart of both good customer and public relations. But it’s grown to be a far bigger task than it used to be.
Maintaining good public and customer relations used to be as simple as hiring the right personality types to man the phones and stand behind the customer service desk. While these are certainly still important, Facebook, Twitter, blog posts, YouTube and other social media have given each consumer a voice that can potentially be heard around the world.
It reminds me of an instance about a year ago where Lori Gilson took homebuilder Richmond American to task in her blog post for a number of major problems with her new home Richmond flatly refused to fix. This post became extremely popular, and climbed quickly to the first page in Google Search. In short order she ended up with 46 comments, an interview with a local television station on the 6 PM news, and Richmond American apologizing on the phone, at her door, and repairs all over her home including the costly replacement of her driveway.
The irony here is that because of all the bad press Richmond got from this blog, they ended up replacing not only Lori’s driveway, but driveways all over her neighborhood. And there was probably much more they did for other customers as a result of this one post that we never heard about. What was the final cost to Richmond American? How many potential customers did they lose? Who knows? What’s easy to see is that the total cost of the damage control they ended up doing was greatly and unnecessarily multiplied as a result of mishandling just one customer—albeit the wrong customer—Lori Gilson.
When businesses think about their online content marketing strategy, it’s not only the content of their own website and Facebook page they need to be focused on. To maintain good customer and public relations, it is essential to watch for and quickly address any negative feedback on all your company sites. You also need to frequently search the Web for any negative comments on other blogs or social media that potential clients might have pop up in a search. While it may be impossible to make everyone happy with you or your firm in every instance, a little damage control can work wonders if something has slipped through the cracks or has been mishandled by customer service. Potential clients and customers are searching the Web all the time in their efforts to locate firms with an acceptable level of expertise and customer satisfaction. Check frequently to see what’s being said and if necessary, get it fixed, fast.
Another area frequently overlooked by businesses that sell products through venues like Amazon are the product pages. I was recently searching Amazon for a lens hood for my digital camera. I saw opportunities all over the place in the product ratings for companies to join the discussion and become PR heroes and boost sales by solving problems customers posted as negative feedback about their products. Here are a few examples of the comments I saw:
“This product is really bad it never stayed on my camera and it would fall while taking photos in front of clients it was extremely embarrassing. I threw it away. I wasted my time buying it. I tried so many ways to make it stay but it was worthless. Unless you want to crazy glue it … but, who would want to do that?? “
“Wish I had taken a few moments to read the reviews first. Does not fit a standard Canon EOS 18-55mm lens.”
“CHEAP ! Does not rotate as they claim. Threads on to lens with GREAT difficulty. Don’t waste your money.”
Feedback on all the lens hoods I considered complained about mounting problems. It was the product with a customer review telling how to solve the mounting problem that I ended up buying. Addressing negative feedback might not change the opinion of the author, but it will definitely lessen if not erase the impact of the negative comment on the potential buyers who read it, as well as solve problems in advance for new buyers like me.
So, the moral of this public relations story is that there are really only two choices: 1) resolve customer problems up front in a way that demonstrates you care, or 2) risk having to spend a great deal more time and money later paying to have someone pull stingers out all over the Web–while also taking a hit to your sales.