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Customer Service: A Stepping Stool to Public Relations

“The customer’s always right.” This is the common motto spoken by managers across the nation, over and over again. 

Since the beginning of October I have worked as an account executive selling advertising space to local businesses for my university’s student newspaper. At this point, rushing to my office first thing in the morning and in between classes has become an addictive routine. Now February, I realize what it is that urges me to be in my office as often as possible: My clients. 

On a typical day I arrive at the office with a couple voice mails. One might be from a prospective client, while the next is from a regular client who is somewhat infuriated that today’s ad had a blue tint. This reoccurring “blue” problem is no one’s fault but the printing and I have to remind the client of that in a respectful way: “Yes, Mr. Hodson, the printer had another malfunction that was out of our control. I apologize and can assure you we are working on the problem right away. If it’s any consolation, we will give you free color on your next ad. And no, I don’t mean blue color.” My day progresses with new and weekly visits, constant e-mail check and telephone calls (many on my cell phone that’s on the verge of dying…again.) 

But the truth is, I enjoy the constant communication with clients. It is my job to know their business, cater to their needs, respect them, keep them happy and tell them they are right. I know that each customer interaction only contributes to the way in which the customer views the overall company. As an account executive, I am the face and the voice for the newspaper. If I act poorly, then it is only a poor reflection on the company I work for.

Some may wonder why I’m working in sales and advertising when I am a public relations major, but interacting with a customer contributes greatly to public relations. This is the revelation I have come to in the past four months, with the help of some fellow bloggers.

Jeremy Pepper, a public relations practitioner at Marcom in San Francisco elaborated on the idea of customer service as the first step to public relations. Pepper explains that if you are going to understand your publics, shouldn’t you first learn what they are saying about your company? In his blog he says, “If you are in a public relations department, here’s a suggestion: work down in customer service for a day. Then, work with the head of CS to ensure your messaging is consistent across the board.” He concludes that customer service and public relations should not be connected but should work together.

Another blogger, Kami Huyse states plainly that public relations IS customer service. Her blog tells us that, “Public relations must stop looking at itself as a telemarketer of pitches and press releases to media and instead become a champion for the customer and the communities that they serve.”

A blog post by Dave Fleet parallels Huyse’s by stating that, “…customer service function has always had an element of public relations to it.” Every interaction you have with your customers via telephone, e-mail, in-person or social media has the ability to either “build loyalty or breed dissatisfaction.” Every time you are disloyal to a customer you are not just harming that interaction. You are harming your overall relationship with that customer, and who knows if they will ever come back?

The other day, a friend of mine raved about Zappos shoes’ customer service. He needed specific shoes to wear while he worked in a hospital. He ordered them one night with hope that the shoes would come within the next week. But to his surprise, the shoes were on his doorstep the next morning.

This story seemed too good to be true, but I stood corrected when I read a Business Week article on Zappos’ customer service. Sure enough, it says that customers can order shoes as late as 11 p.m. and still get next-day delivery. Zappos’ “fanatical customer service” doesn’t stop there with free shipping and returns. Additionally, customer service reps do not use scripts and are never forced to cut calls short. CEO of Zappos Shoes, Tony Hsieh says, “If customers know that they’re going to get the best service from Zappos and they’re going to get it overnight, then anytime we’re going to add a product category, our customers will be loyal to us.”

I guess one could say that my work at the school newspaper is “fanatical customer service,” as it is practically an addiction checking up on my clients and welcoming new ones. I am just happy to know that the skills I have obtained do apply to my major and will not go unseen.

So my advice to those dying for a public relations job right out of college but can’t seem to land one: Try a customer service job. Try a sales job. This is PR. This is great PR practice that will only prepare you for a future job. Oh, and don’t forget: “The customer’s always right.”

– Carly Jayne Rullman


  1. Post comment

    I finally caught up with this post today. It’s great to hear your thinking about this topic. Funny, but I was an advertising rep for MY school paper when I was in college, and eventually was the advertising director for the paper. I think it was fundamental to my thinking on this issue.

    Thanks for aggregating all of these posts, I will bookmark this for future reference on this topic in my delicious account.


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