Public relations, in a business context, is mostly about creating goodwill, understanding and support for the company from people who matter (stakeholders, if you must). These people typically include customers (obviously) and prospects, suppliers, local communities, business partners, industry groups, legislators and so on.
Most important of all, arguably, are the company’s own employees: you won’t keep customers if employees don’t care about them. No matter how much time and effort you put in to carefully crafting your PR activities, it can all come quickly crashing down through the actions of one member of staff with a bad attitude. I was reminded of this recently when I finally decided to buy myself a bicycle from Intersport.
For those who don’t know the company, this is a Swiss-based international sporting goods retailer operating through 5,300 stores in 42 countries. I got chatting to the guys in my local store’s cycle service workshop and decided they knew what they were talking about. The advice and the service I received was very good. But the whole experience was somewhat let down by the attitude of the cashier who took my money.
First, she got the price wrong and was annoyed that she had to correct the mistake. Then, she made another mistake by not including the discount her sales colleague told her should apply. When I politely pointed this out she looked me squarely in the eyes and flatly denied he’d told her. I had to go and find the salesman myself and ask him to return to the cash desk and repeat what he’d said. After much huffing and puffing from the cashier, the intervention of a manager and with a long line of other customers now backing up behind us, I finally managed to complete my purchase. My friend and I left the store amazed at the experience, and for all the wrong reasons.
There’s an old adage about recruitment: hire for attitude, train for skills. HR is clearly central to this. It is HR’s role to identify, hire, retain and incentivise good people. How competent HR people are in this respect has a direct bearing on the company’s reputation; its public perception. Large retailers like Kingfisher plc or John Lewis Partnership clearly understand this. It’s no accident that both enjoy great reputations. They understand the crucial relationship between public relations and human resources.
On its website, Intersport blathers on and on about customer service for more than 700 words, boasting that it “takes customer service to an unique level” (sic). I certainly can’t argue with that! But I also can’t help wondering from the above experience if the company’s HR and PR teams even know one another, let alone work together.