One night my hard-working father decided to treat us to a night out at a well-known pizza franchise restaurant. We arrived at the location and asked for a table for five, and were told to wait…and wait…and wait. Finally, after almost 40 minutes of waiting to be served and an incredibly rude interaction with the front of house staff at the location, my dad decided to leave and treat us to some hamburgers instead.
Neat story. But what does this have to do with either Public Relations or Customer Support?
Well, that night my dad vowed to never give any of his money to this pizza chain ever again, and not only has he stuck to his word almost 20 years later, but my family tells this story to friends and other family members whenever this chain is brought up in conversation.
Forty minutes of bad service has negated almost two decades worth of customer loyalty from my father and placed a bug in the ear of any of our friends who heard this infamous story. When they’ve had a bad experience with the same company, maybe they’ll think about the story we told and vow to not buy from the chain again too.
Dissatisfied customers tell up to 15 people about their negative experience
When I started working in support I learned that my dad was not alone in this approach. According to a Lee Resources study, there’s a 91% chance that an unhappy customer will not do business with an organization again and dissatisfied customers will usually tell nine to 15 people about their negative experience.
Many companies, especially small or new start-ups, treat their support team as a necessary expense. Customers will need to speak to someone about their product at some point, so companies need to have someone in place to answer these questions at a net loss to the company’s financial revenue. This approach leads to having the support team to be treated as an after-thought, making the support team its own island away from the other more “important” teams in the organization such as Engineering, Marketing, Design, etc.
This is a huge mistake, especially in today’s landscape of social media word of mouth and shaming. Before my career in support, I studied both Professional Writing and Public Relations and have found that a great support team can double as an organization’s Public Relations team when they are given the right CS & social media tools. Here’s how:
1. The Face of The Company
One of the main responsibilities of a Public Relations team is to be the “face” of a company—they’re the department that responds to media inquiries, gets coverage for your company, and ensures people are aware of your brand. A support team functions in the same way; your support team members respond to user inquiries, ensure the reputation of your organization remains positive and is the de facto “face” of your organization because they are the first point of contact most of your users will have.
This is incredibly important to keep in mind; if a user is contacting your support team it is most likely because your product is not behaving as expected, or because they are unhappy with the product. It’s crucial that your users have a good experience when dealing with support because it will influence their sentiment towards your product and company as a whole. Even if the support team is unable to fix the user’s problem, the customer will remember that they were given great support.
Leverage this position by training your support team to understand the importance of being the first point of contact. Train your team to provide empathetic, courteous, and timely support while understanding they are representatives of not only the support team but the company as a whole.
2. Audience Experts
Another function of a Public Relations department is to know your company’s audience and how to pivot your brand and voice to cater to your audience. Since support team members speak with your users on a daily basis, they can be one of your company’s best tools when trying to get a pulse of your user’s needs and demographics.
One example of how to use your support team’s knowledge of your audience is to include them in roll-outs. When something may upset users, such as raising prices or sunsetting a feature, ask your support team for their thoughts. Your support team will be able to tell how users may feel about these changes, what type of push back you may encounter, and the best way to announce these changes to your users.
I previously worked for a company that had a fairly popular blog. Near Halloween, they released a “top serial killers of the century” infographic to all the customers on our mailing list. We had a large number of users contact our chat and email channels to complain that the email was tasteless and offensive. A quick meeting with the support team would have told them the majority of our users were school-aged children and middle-aged women – not exactly the type of people who would find this type of email interesting or funny.
A support team can also help your product team find common functionality issues or pain points that your users may be experiencing. Working together to fix these issues leads to an easier user experience and happier customers. We support people always remember the types of tickets we receive, especially when it involves a feature or design flaw.
3. Crisis Managers
When studying Public Relations, you are presented with case studies on what not to do in a time of crisis or bad press. Famous cases include BP CEO Tony Hayward saying he would “…like my life back” during the horrible BP Oil Spill in 2010, or when a celebrity or public figure is caught in an incriminating situation and has to apologize. This is usually called “Crisis Management”, which is the practice of acknowledging, managing, and working to reverse negative communication and perception surrounding a business crisis.
If a company has a system outage, security breach, or any other “worst case” scenario, customers will most likely reach out to the support team to inquire what the company is doing, voice a complain, or request an account cancellation. Having an empathetic, prepared, and communicative support team can turn the situation around by providing the information users are requesting. Even if the customer still churns, their last interaction with your company would have been a positive one, leaving the door open for a future return. It can be anywhere between five to 25 times more expensive to attract a new customer than to retain one, and having a strong support team with the correct tools during a time of crisis can be the one factor that influences a customer’s decision.
How your support team communicates with customers during a time of crisis, or even during a simple complaint, has the potential to influence whether or not users continue to use your platform. You can set-up your support team for success in a time of crisis by creating a document that outlines the steps your company will take in a time of crisis, contact points and ensure your team knows they are expected to handle these inquiries with tact and empathy.
4. Brand Managers
As mentioned in our first point, a company’s customer support/service team will naturally become the “face” of the company. Think about your experiences at ubiquitous places such as Starbucks. Even though they have the historic mermaid logo, most people also associate the baristas in green aprons with Starbucks. There are even TikTok memes that rank fast-food companies by a generalization of their employees’ behavior towards the customer.
How your support team approaches communication will shape how your users and potential customers view your brand. When customers are answered in a timely, polite, and informative manner, your brand will become synonymous with good service. Bad service will lead to negative reviews since, as mentioned earlier, dissatisfied customers are likely to tell nine to 15 people about their experience. With the ease and speed of social media, many people may also post about their negative experience on their social media channels.
A company’s brand is made up of many tangible features such as logo, products, prices, and typography but as Seth Godin has said “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” These expectations and memories are shaped by your customers’ interactions with your support team, making your support members the perfect brand managers.
Your support team is an untapped source
Companies need a way to stand out in today’s competitive market, and consumers not only have more choices but more venues to air their frustrations. By having a strong support team that is given the best opportunities to also act as a public relations team, your organization will not only retain more customers but have the potential to gain new ones at no added cost through word-of-mouth and positive reviews.
Your support team is not just there to answer emails, chats, or phone calls; they are an untapped source of customer insights, branding, and crisis management.