Eleven ways PR can improve a brand’s customer relations

Excellent customer relations and good PR go hand in hand. As Chris Batchelor, senior account director at agency Muckle Media explains: “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, if your customer relations are handled poorly, the best PR in the world won’t hide this. Social media has made it impossible to hide as disgruntled customers express their frustrations daily, from poor customer service to lack of communication. Now brands have specific customer service social media channels to direct complaints to, so anything handled poorly really can result in a PR disaster where it’s all to see.”

Below are nine top tips for creating great customer relations and two tips for the best ways of communicating with disgruntled customers.

Think about the customer journey

Adnan Bashir, senior manager for global corporate communications at Hansen Technologies: "First and foremost, mastering customer relations today entails having a complete picture of what the modern customer journey looks like. Depending on the nature of your business, this could mean anything from having a seamless user interface on your app, optimising the visitor experience on your website, responding to customer service complaints in a speedy manner, ensuring a pleasant in-store customer experience, fulfilling orders rapidly at your warehouse, providing a resonant and immersive experience to visitors through an activation at a major music festival, and everything in between.”

Embed your brand’s purpose

Adnan Bashir: “Every effort to interact with your target audience must be reflective of your organisation’s purpose. In a recent EY study, 85% of respondents said they were more likely to recommend a company with strong purpose to others, whereas 81% said that purpose-driven firms deliver higher-quality products and services. Whether it’s ethical sourcing or sustainability within your supply chain, a brand’s purpose must be embedded within every layer of the organisation. This matters a great deal to today's Gen-Y and Z consumers."

PR must support customer service teams

Lottie West, associate director - UK consumer lead at Hotwire Global: “Ensuring a clear pathway of communication and collaboration between customer service teams and PR teams is a sure way to set brands up for success. I recommend to clients that they empower their customer service teams to reach out for counsel from PR teams when issues escalate - we can provide advice on tackling the problem at hand, and in serious cases, develop public statements to show the brand’s sincerity and understanding of the issue. As social media plays an increasing role as an escalation point for customer service issues, it’s important that community managers are following the same processes to ensure a seamless and consistent customer experience, however they choose to get in touch.”

Use case studies

Lottie West: “Ask if you can use positive customer stories as a real-life case study for earned and owned media. Real-life stories can build trust and authenticity for your brand. Not to mention how case studies are a valuable PR asset to offer third-party endorsement to generate publicity and ultimately, drive positive perceptions around the brand.”

Be personable

Gareth Hoyle, managing director of agency Marketing Signals : “One thing we recommend to our clients is make sure they create a personable relationship with their customers. For example, sending out discount codes when it’s their birthday or giving them the option to opt out of Father’s Day or Mother’s Day emails - as these can be hard days for many. Working hard at getting to know who their customers are and what their needs are is invaluable for every brand.”

Fix any gaps in delivery

Cheryl Morris, managing director at agency Creative Word PR: “Look at your business through your customers’ eyes, where are you succeeding and where are you failing to deliver on your key promises? A big part of crisis management is looking at where there are gaps in delivery for a business and fixing them before they become an issue or at least being prepared with a response when they do arise.”

Highlight positive news

Cheryl Morris: “Most of all be proactive with positive news. Let people know about your successes. Reinforcing key messaging helps to build a great picture about your business and reassure your customers by building your brand reputation.”

Provide human contact

Michael Lamb, creative strategist in earned media at communications agency M&C Saatchi Talk: ”Today’s customer relations landscape has been transformed by technology with brands offering up everything from AI-powered chatbots to virtual assistants, and even virtual and augmented reality (AR) experiences.

“However, what we’re increasingly seeing from consumers is a desire to speak to a human. And from a PR perspective, it’s crucial that customer service teams are skilled in listening and understanding to determine what the customer needs, as well as having the expertise to solve their problem.

“PR teams can also uncover some valuable truths from these human conversations. And if we learn more about what customers really think and feel about a brand, we’ll be better equipped to create campaigns that truly connect with customers and make meaningful impact.”

Be clear, honest, communicative and transparent

Nick Ford-Young, founder of marketing agency Boldspace: “Whichever brand touchpoint or interaction with a consumer we are referencing - from returns and complaints, to social, support and in-store service - the same highly advisable best-case scenario exists:

“Brands should be clear, honest, communicative and transparent, with a personality and distinctiveness to their approach that starts with their brand positioning and values, and cohesively permeates every facet of their business.

“The former part is easier to achieve, and in a sense must be a given for good business - a baseline of good operational systems and a great team that drives excellent service and with it good reviews, recommendations, referrals, case studies and ultimately reputation.

“The latter - a distinctive approach that is able to surprise and delight and build narratives out of the customer experience, is what brands must aim for if they want to turn good practice into PR opportunities. From personable, 'on-brand' social media interactions, to treating customers so well they want to tell your story for you.”

How to handle complaints

Proper communication with unhappy customers is key for good customer relations. Rob Ettridge, chief operating officer at PR agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, says: Brands must consider the big picture when dealing with complaints from disgruntled customers. Complaints are often the last-chance saloon for brands to save and enhance their corporate reputation, particularly with so many channels for unhappy customers to rant on. And how well you handle complaints can be the difference between keeping and losing that customer.”

Act quickly

Kayleigh Morgan, account manager at agency Wild PR: "When you receive negative feedback online, the faster and more helpful the response, the less impact on the business. By actively monitoring responsibilities, you should be able to intercept a crisis before it gets serious.”

Marketing Signals’ Gareth Hoyle: “If a customer has gone onto social media to air their complaints, make sure you have a social media team in place to be able to deal with this. Send the customer a speedy reply and reassure them that someone from the brand will be in touch to discuss their query in more detail. If a mistake is made, quick actions to rectify the situation is vital for good customer relationships.”

Take the discussion offline

Stephanie King, associate director at recruitment sector agency BlueSky PR: “These days, if your customer has a bad experience then more often than not they’ll tweet you their complaint.

“Brands who are good at customer service politely reply and usually take the conversation offline but I’ve seen brands deny the complaint and even those who delete all negative comments. Which one do you think generates more good will amongst your customers, followers and the realm of social media?

“Once something is posted online, it’s never really gone - screenshots are often shared of the comment that disappeared. And that ends up looking worse than the original comment.

“Communication always wins out and generates more good will. Even a negative experience, if resolved correctly, can result in that individual becoming more invested in your brand. Which is exactly the kind of customer you are looking for - those who are invested in you are far more likely to voluntarily share their positive experiences.”


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