“Would you move. Just move away from the window!”  yelled the server at the Wendy’s drive-thru as I tried to check my order. Turns out, she was on a timer in the name of fast customer service.  She was stressed, therefore, I was stressed (well actually annoyed) and my experience was less than satisfactory.

I guess the company didn’t get the memo – speed doesn’t count if it’s not polite and pleasant.  The server needed to understand the goal. Instead, after talking with her, (Yes, I went back. I just had to get to the bottom of this) I found that she really felt threatened by this timer – she thought her job was in jeopardy.

In a day when excellent customer service is a pillar of almost every company’s mission statement, this message is not always communicated to the frontline employee.

In Peter Shankman’s book, Customer Service – New Rules for a Social Media World, he states that the customer service team is “the first line of attack and defense when it comes to customer communication.”  He points out that they know more about the customer in one day than most companies will discover in a month.

So how does this relate to PR?  Customer service is PR. Great customer service can do more to define your brand then any money you might spend on advertising.  In most cases, it’s the first touch point to your customer and plays a significant role in their experience with your company.

While there are many ways to impact customer service, these four tips should be the cornerstone for all you do:

  • Make sure your employees are aware of important company news as the customer will frequently ask.
  • Communicate the importance of customer first initiatives and what this means. Note to the Columbus, GA Wendy’s – key indicators like speed of service is only one part of the equation; customer satisfaction should be the primary goal and that might take a little extra time.
  • Ensure that customer service reps are clear on the company messages and how to communicate them.   They are  typically the first human interaction.
  • Treat your employees with respect and they will treat your customers with respect.  A happy employee makes for a happy customer.

Just yesterday, MSN Money came out with their “2011 Customer Hall of Shame.” Big names you’ll recognize, it’s surprising how they missed the boat. Conversely, they also came out with the “2011 Customer Hall of Fame.” The common link:  these companies respect their customers and their employees.

Remember that a happy employee can be your best PR asset. And as always – it’s easier to keep a customer than find a new one.

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