As it appeared in the Daily Nation of December 2nd 2014
By Lucy Kiruthu
A few weeks ago many organizations celebrated the customer service week. As they did so, I was on the forefront encouraging them not to make their celebrations a PR gimmick but instead use the week to add value to the overall customer experience beyond the publicity. Such campaigns are not the only instance where PR and customer service may be confused. In some organizations, the PR manager is in charge of aspects such as the reception, call centre, customer communications and social media while in other organizations these are entirely customer service functions. What is the difference between PR and customer service?
Public Relations simply referred by many as PR in my understanding is managing how an organization communicates with its publics. I visited The Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) website to see what their definition is but failed to spot one. My insight though is not too far-off from the definition by The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). In 2011/12, PRSA led an international effort to modernize the definition of public relations and produced the following definition: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” A major group of the said publics in a business environment are indisputably the customers.
On the other hand my favourite explanation of customer service is making our customers feel great about being our customers, so great that they bring others with them. Others define Customer service as everything an organization does to understand, meet and exceed its customers’ expectations. Phrases such as customer experience, customer care and customer relations denote the same concept of serving the customer with excellence. The question though is – are we duplicating customer service and PR efforts or is PR completely detached from customer service?
In my past work experience as a Customer Service Manager, a head of PR sat right across me. During the more than 2 years that we shared an office I got to learn something about PR and he too was able to appreciate customer service. During my tenure in this international organization, responsibilities that had any mention of the customer started swiftly drifting to my docket. Such responsibilities included the customer newsletter, customer events, customer e-shots and customer gifts. I took them up without any qualms. As the customer service manager my role had a major element of his PR efforts. Not long ago, this former colleague invited me to speak on customer service at an organization where he had taken up a PR role and wanted to strengthen the customer service function. Is customer service the new PR? PR professionals in organizations without a customer service function are increasingly finding themselves combining the two roles. Both PR and customer service remain an essential part of an organizations’ success.
In the last few days I have been wondering if the ideal is for PR professionals to hand over customers to customer service professionals and be left to deal with other publics. That is possibly not going to happen soon. To build strong relationships with customers the only option is for PR and customer service to actively work together.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy