PR And The Customer Experience

Creating exceptional customer experiences is crucial to developing long-lasting customer relationships. Every action, every word, and every behavior undertaken by a brand has an impact on the customer experience, positively or negatively.

While stewardship of the customer relationship journey is being vigorously contested by brand management, corporate communications, advertising agencies, and social media firms, the role that public relations should play in the mix is still up in the air. Whatever the outcome, whether PR moves to center stage or passes the baton to the CMO, some rules of the customer experience road may provide useful insights into how and where PR may best fit into the new CEM landscape.

1. Keep your customers (all stakeholders) involved in the customer experience development process



As more marketers come to realize that the consumer controls their fate and as the collaborative consumer environment evolves, savvy brand stewards will embed opportunities for stakeholders to offer their ideas to make the product/service better serve their needs.

2. Use the experience to seek customer feedback

Ask not what the brand can do for consumers. Ask consumers what they can do for the brand. Listen carefully and make the consumer the hero of the brand story. A great customer experience requires a thorough understanding of the customer and getting frequent feedback will help insure the customer experience meets the customers' needs.

3. Every business decision must consider the overall customer experience

The most effective customer experience managers think like customers and act from the perspective of the customer. This is a game-changing point of view that will amaze customers. To see how the customer experience is working, try these strategies:

*Become a mystery shopper -- experience the product in its retail environment.

*Visit the brand Web site, and kick the tires to see how easy it is to locate critical information.

*Dial the 800-customer service line to find out how questions and complaints are handled.

*Submit an email or Facebook a question and see if you receive a reply, and if so, how long it takes.

4. Send personal notes to customers on special occasions

Since the customer experience is about connecting empathetically with customers, CE team members should follow up to let customers know they care. It's not difficult to send personalized "thank you for your business" notes or emails on the anniversary of a purchase or contract. What a pleasant surprise to receive a note saying we remember, we value your business, and here's a little something of added value.

5. Share useful information about the industry or related products as part of the customer experience

Why not dare to share news about developments in the field -- even those made by the competition. Brand enthusiasts are going to find out fast anyway, so why not break the news and let customers know how your offering is still their best choice.

6. Ask customers to participate in the product or customer experience testing process

It began with bloggers reviewing products, so why not involve customers in something more meaningful than another survey? Customers love to feel like insiders, and will invest their time in reporting on product usage when properly motivated. And positive customer reviews become potent tools to enrich the developing customer experience for all concerned.

7. Don't focus solely on acquiring new customers; keep developing the relationship with current customers

The bottom line: Pareto's law holds that 80% of profits come from 20% of customers. Focus on those loyalists; audit the process to determine what is working and to suggest alternative approaches. But always be sure the customer knows the brand is investing in thinking through creative solutions to his marketing challenges.

So where does public relations fit into this schema? Every step in the customer experience journey requires communications, which should make every public relations practitioner happy. The issue at hand is how to convince clients that the customer communications process rightly belongs in the PR realm.

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