Thank you for your patience

Patiently listening while being thanked for my patience.

“Thank you for your patience.”  When I see it in a letter or hear it from a customer service representative, I often think, “Hmmm…but maybe I’m not being patient.”

As a homeowner and business owner in Houston, Texas, I’ve seen and heard this more than usual in the past months.  That’s because we are living in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when recovery and other services are in high demand and not always readily available.  As a result, so many affected by Harvey’s flooding are routinely thanked for their patience – or understanding, or cooperation.

Out of curiosity, I conducted some informal research.  I asked a few friends how they feel about being thanked in advance for their patience.  I also searched online.  Both friends and the online community reveal the same thing:  phrases like this can be perceived as presumptuous, even insulting.

In an effort to be polite, the person communicating these platitudes may actually offend the customers they are trying to communicate with.  They are thanking the customer for something over which he or she has no choice.

This is a seemingly minor communication faux pas, but it’s now endemic in our culture.  The internet server is down, the flight is delayed, an urgent service call is put on hold for an inordinate amount of time – these are all cases where you can gain or lose a customer simply by how you communicate.  Thanking someone for their patience when they cannot communicate with clients, reach their destination in time for a meeting, or have sewage leaking into their home can seem insensitive.

Is there a better way to handle these situations?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Indicate that you know how inconvenient the situation is and that you will keep them updated.  (Then follow through.)
  • Apologize for the inconvenience and assure the customer that you are working to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.
  • Give the customer a time estimate when the problem will be resolved – or if they are on hold, what the “wait time” is.

Many companies are already doing this, and customers do appreciate it.  Most people understand that “stuff happens,” but when it affects important aspects of their lives, they just want as much information as possible about what’s going on and when things will be resolved.  That’s how a company shows respect for its customers.

Posted by Lisa Dimond Vasquez

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What does your front desk say about you?

There is one client I always look forward to calling or visiting.  The receptionist, who also handles all incoming calls, is unceasingly cheerful and professional.  She is a valuable – and no doubt valued – employee.  I hope she realizes how much she contributes to the success of the company she works for.

The people who are in charge of your front desk and answer your telephone play an extremely important role.  They are the “public face” of the company – often creating a lasting first impression. They should be treated with respect, paid well and know how important you think their job is.

What does this have to do with public relations? PR is essentially reputation building and reputation management.  “Perception is reality,” we often say.  It’s difficult to see how much an executive really cares about his or her company’s image when the first – or even second or third – impression people receive is negative.

And don’t forget to keep your front desk people informed.  You may get a call from a reporter wanting to do a positive story on news your PR person has sent out, but if you never communicate with the person who answers your phone, the reporter may get transferred all around the office and finally give up because no one knows what’s going on.  (That’s why our firm does call list instructions for clients to distribute to their office staff, by the way.)

Smart company managers know this, but sometimes we all get so busy we forget to become objective observers of our work environment.  To quote Scottish poet Robert Burns:  “Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.”

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Does Your Company Need a Social Media War Room?

Social media war rooms are in the news right now.  In fact, they recently were a featured part of a story by Ned Hibberd of Houston’s FOX 26 TV News. The story, which was prompted by Hibberd’s own experience as a consumer, quoted Lisa Dimond, principal of DoubleDimond Public Relations.

It isn’t surprising that this topic is gaining more attention.  While social media channels are great for creating interest, hearing from and targeting consumers, they can create havoc with your company brand.  All it takes is one embarrassing video posted on YouTube or one thoughtless comment on Twitter and, with the speed of light, you are dealing with a PR crisis.

Most companies – especially those who sell products or services to the public – are taking this possibility very seriously.  It’s dangerous not to do so, considering such recent social media missteps as the tweet by a KitchenAid employee during the presidential debate.  The tweet was quickly disavowed by the company, which helped tamp down on the negative publicity they were receiving.

Although corporations are not known for moving quickly, social media demands immediacy.  You have to communicate in real time – engaging with consumers and responding quickly to online comments and complaints.  In fact, with the appropriate response, you can turn a complaint into a positive experience for your customers.

And that’s where war rooms come in.  Many large corporations have in-house war rooms within their marketing or public relations department to monitor the use of their name across social media.

Do you need a war room?  Unless you are a big company sporting a well-known brand name, it’s probably not cost-effective.

But reputation monitoring is essential for all businesses.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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“Spin,” Part 2: Lipstick on a Pig

spinPutting Lipstick on a Pig, Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear – these phrases have been used for years to describe so-called “PR spin.”  It’s the usually fruitless activity of trying to slap a positive face on a negative event.

A few years ago, a struggling charity that had expanded its services beyond what it could adequately fund, sent out a letter to its contributors.  The letter, written in a cheerful – almost giddy – tone, described this “exciting” news:  the organization was cutting many of its programs (and the people who worked in them) to focus on its core services.

Yes, it was a positive move financially; no longer would the charity have to struggle to pay its bills.  However, the tone of the letter indicated a complete lack of regard for the negative impact of its decision – not only on the people who used those discarded programs, but also on the employees who had just lost their jobs.

In trying to make what was a necessary, but distressing, decision sound positive, the letter came across as insensitive and insincere.  How much better to just state the facts – that the organization was having financial difficulty and was forced to make cuts to ensure its future survival, since its core services were sorely needed by the community.  That could be followed up with a Call to Action, asking donors to help with the current situation and perhaps increase donations for the future in order to restore some, if not all, of those programs.  After all, one presumes that a charity’s donor base is essentially a friendly audience that supports the cause.

This type of behavior is not unique to that charity; we see it almost daily in the media.  Some prominent organization or person will do or say something that is embarrassing – or, in some cases, just plain awful.  Then they will try to pretend that the incident either never happened – or didn’t happen the way it was portrayed.  Usually these denials are so transparent they prolong what would have been long-forgotten with a simple mea culpa.

In short, when bad things happen, it’s always best to face up to it.  Get the facts out there, quickly and without subterfuge, and tell everyone what you plan to do about the situation.  Ask for assistance (if it’s called for) and report back from time to time to inform everyone about how things are going.

You – and your organization – will look a lot more credible without the “spin.”

Posted by Margot Dimond

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What Does One of Those Plastic Bank Tube Thingies Have to Do with PR?

Nothing really.  But an incident that recently occurred involving a plastic bank tube – or pneumatic carrier, as it’s referred to by pneumatic carrier manufacturers – brings to mind why good customer service at the most basic level really counts and can even avert a PR fiasco.

Recently, as I was trying to put the plastic tube back in its holder after depositing money at a branch of my bank, the tube slipped out of my hand and rolled under my SUV.  I tried to open my door to retrieve it, but the holder was in the way.  So I told the teller what happened and that I would pull up to try to retrieve it.  Then, I heard a loud crunch.  I had completely smashed the tube with my tire, and before I could get out to retrieve it, a furious bank security guard chased after me, yelling about my demolishing the tube.  I told him that I had already informed the teller about this situation and that she knew I was trying to return it to its holder.  I then walked back to the drive-through intercom system, and the teller told me that it wasn’t a problem; they had replacement tubes on hand.

So where’s the PR part of this story?  Well, thinking that I was a first-time carrier crushing offender, I posted my story on popular social media channels.  Soon my “friends” and “followers” came forward, one even confessing he had been too embarrassed to share his story (involving a pharmacy drive-through carrier) until I posted mine.

And then the questions came about where I bank.  Being sensitive to my fellow PR colleagues who often are forced to clean up social media messes, I avoided the “Where was this angry security guard?” inquiries, along with the questions about  why the security guard reacted the way he did.

But had I posted the name of the bank, or even created an “I dropped a bank tube at (insert bank name here) and was chewed out by a security guard” Facebook fan page, well, it could have caused a bit of a PR headache.  At the same time, the bank’s PR pros, who would ideally catch the chatter while monitoring the social media sites, could quickly respond.

Still, it’s best for employees at every level, especially those dealing directly with consumers, to always remember that one disgruntled customer can impact the views of hundreds and even thousands of social media users within just a few hours.

Everyone is watching these days!

Posted by Lisa Dimond Vasquez, Principal, DoubleDimond Public Relations.

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Protecting Your Reputation: No “Spin” Involved

Mark Twain is said to have coined the phrase,  “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”  Twain died in 1910.  One wonders what he would have thought of a world dominated by social media because his comment is truer today than ever.

Just a decade ago, it was a much different situation.  Public relations counselors would occasionally get calls from potential clients who needed to dispel a bad reputation – mostly earned, unfortunately.  This is not the best time to contact a PR firm.  It’s much easier to begin a PR firm-client relationship with a company that already has a good reputation – or even a reputation that is essentially a blank slate.

The problem isn’t that a company’s bad reputation cannot be turned around; it just takes time and is often hindered if a company doesn’t want to change its practices – just the negative perception its practices have generated.  In these cases, the PR firm ends up spending a lot of time trying to convince company executives that there are no magic wands that can make reality disappear.  The company actually has to change the way it does things.  Perhaps due to the overuse of the word “spin” to describe what PR people do, these company executives expect a miraculous turnaround.

But now, it can be even worse for companies who are not prepared.  Disgruntled former employees, disappointed customers, and competitors can fill online “review” sites with negative comments – earned or not.  Damaging blog posts, photos and videos can spread to literally millions of people before their content can be disputed or explained away.

Entire businesses have sprung up to deal with online reputation management.

And yet, the basic PR approach still applies:  Build a positive reputation to begin with, and it will be easier to control any attacks on your reputation down the road.  No “spin” involved.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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The Importance of Being Silent

Two things happened this morning that made me think about our new “very connected” world.  The first was a (thankfully, positive) discussion with a journalist about something that had happened years ago, but that is still present on the Web.  “Nothing ever goes away anymore,” he said.  So true.

The second was an incident of someone I knew, planning to forward an outraged response to an email she had received, but accidentally sending her response to the original sender instead.  Ouch!

In the first instance, it does amaze me how a simple Google search of my name produces items from jobs and volunteer activities long forgotten by me – but not by the Web. In the second instance, who hasn’t meant to forward an email with a comment to a friend or business associate, yet accidentally sent it to the originator?

We have a tendency to think that famous people – actors, politicians, media figures – are the only ones who have to worry about this.  After all, they have such a large audience, and in many cases, a wrong phrase or embarrassing video gone viral can put the brakes on their careers.

But we all have audiences we care about, and we should be mindful that what we do and say may become public.  Obviously, we should behave well anyway; but a slip in demeanor nowadays can have wide-ranging and long-lasting consequences.

As public relations counselors, we’re often tasked with encouraging our clients to communicate – to tell their story, present their message and respond quickly and clearly in a crisis.  But we now have to add a caution to our communication trainings.  After all, anything you say publicly “can and will be used,” will never be forgotten, and may define your forever.

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Reputation Management 101

Reputation managementReputation management is an important part of public relations.  It’s many times more difficult to repair a broken reputation than to maintain a good one.  So it would seem obvious that company owners and executives would keep reputation management as one of their top agenda items.  If only that were the case.

Ideally, company executives will consult with their public relations team on a regular basis – to make sure their actions are well-conceived and communicated accurately.  After all, the best communication is not solely from a company to its publics.  It’s important as well to facilitate communication to a company from its publics.  That’s why most PR pros work hard to stay in touch with public opinion on behalf of their employers or clients.

Often, however, company executives charge ahead without giving much thought to how their actions will be perceived.  If things do not turn out well, that’s when they bring in their PR people, expecting them to fix a public perception that by that time has already been sealed in concrete.

You rarely see PR disasters with companies or organizations that have been around awhile.  Their management has learned to head off any unpleasant reactions to what they do by including their PR staff in the decision-making process.

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