Post 17: When customer service meets PR

I’ve been thinking lately about the interface between PR and customer service, in the context of an event in which I was forced to play the “I’m a journalist” card.

Let me explain.

I try to run my micro-business like any other, despite the fact that journalists tend to be offered free support for the products they use even if they are using them in their private lives.

For example, when I tweet about feeling frustration with some software products, PR agencies representing the vendors concerned often contact me and offer free support. I decline, as I feel the way to understand what my readers are going through is to live through some tech support engagements. It is also useful to fix the problem myself, as I can learn stuff!

Occasionally, however, a vendor’s service is so dreadful and an acceptable outcome seems so remote, that I play the “I’m a journalist” card by contacting PR representatives of the vendor concerned to let them know about the trouble I am having.

In nearly every case, they escalate the issue and solve the problem very quickly, a response I suspect is honed by years of interaction with consumer advocacy columns in various publications that name and shame vendors who provide poor service.

I played the card recently when a vendor simply refused to put me in touch with the support team responsible for providing me with a replacement for a faulty product. I had already followed a support process that asked us to post the faulty product to a certain facility, but had experienced no response for several weeks. The incident number provided was recognised by the vendor’s call centre, but there was no information whatsoever about the status of the incident. The vendor concerned refused to provide a phone number for the facility to which we had posted the faulty item, leaving no way at all to understand the status of the faulty product.

At this point, having been denied any chance to understand how the vendor proposed to resolve the issue it had created, and feeling mightily and frustrated us mightily, we did what some members of the public would do and let the vendor’s PR team know about the incident.

They resolved it quickly and very satisfactorily.

Had I been a consumer, this incident could have resulted in some ugly press for the vendor concerned.

What I now wonder is whether vendors ever contemplate the fact that PR can be called in – by the general public or media – to explain failures in support and service processes.

In fact, I’d like to have a discussion on these matters on my customer service podcast, if anyone is interested.

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