It began at 6:30 this morning when I retrieved my wet newspaper from the box at the curb. It rained hard all night, but my carrier didn’t bother with the plastic sleeve. She seldom does, and I’ve given up calling or writing circulation to complain. Nothing changes.
The second complaint involves my physician, whose office staff won’t snail mail a blood work order to my home. Instead, they insist I come to the office and pick it up. The office is 30 minutes away, so that’s an hour of my day and $5 worth of gas — just so they can save a stamp.
When a business treats me shabbily, I don’t complain. I simply don’t return. But I don’t have a choice with my local newspaper, short of ignoring local events. I also don’t care to replace a competent and caring doctor with one who knows nothing about me. (Please don’t tell me to read the paper online. Sharing coffee and the newspaper with my wife is a ritual I’m not about to give up. )
No matter how creative or strategic our PR programs may be, our clients’ public face is shaped by the customer interface — an area over which most of us have no control. Large companies like UPS understand. That’s why drivers wear clean, neat uniforms and drive clean, brown trucks. Disney understands, too. That’s why every employee from CEO to maintenance worker is coached on how to be a “cast” member.
But most of us don’t have clients with mega training budgets or corporate identity police. So it’s up to us to spot the weak links and call attention to them.
When I counseled clients for a living, I offered a service we called the “impression audit.” I didn’t sell it, but offered it as a value-added service. Simply put, the audit was a thorough review of how clients performed at key public interface points, from telephone calls and reception areas to delivery drivers and vehicles. The question was simple: What message do these people and things convey?
We looked for weak links that were inconsistent with corporate messages and philosophies — links that could sway perceptions or disrupt the lives of key publics.
There’s no magic in this process. You just have to do it.
We began by identifying initial public contact points, then we observed the client’s performance at each one. How long did it take for a phone call to be answered and routed? How often was it routed incorrectly? What messages did visitors receive from exterior building appearance, signs, greeting areas, etc.? What was the appearance and demeanor of key contact personnel?
See what I mean? No magic. But how many of us actually take time to make these assessments? Public contact points (and people) shape perceptions — sometimes indelibly. And if someone doesn’t spot the weakness, the rest of our stellar PR efforts may go for naught. The walk won’t match the talk, to throw in the obligatory cliche.
What do your companies or clients do to ensure a consistent public-contact message? While you’re posting your thoughts, I’ll be reading the Beacon Journal. It’s almost dry.