Want a Company to Hear You? Talk to Their “People.”
Many of you were already following my recent credit card turmoil, where I was blacklisted from using my own card. When talks with the regular customer service/fraud department left me unfulfilled and wanting to switch credit cards, I got a little creative in my communication efforts. I enlisted the PR department.
What is PR? Public relations companies may be internal to a large company, but usually there is some kind of outside entity representing a corporation's interests, looking out for any negative attention, and working very hard to get the good word out. Since perception is their business, they are usually very interested in any rumblings concerning their client, especially when those rumblings involve a bad experience.
How do you reach a PR contact? Sometimes it's easier than you think. You can start by going to the company's website, searching for a contact page, which may list a separate number or name for media inquiries or press. If you don't find one easily available, I would try looking for a site map. This will bring up all possible links on the website, and sometimes PR contacts are listed. If all of this doesn't work, I start googling for the company's name and “press release.” I follow any links within the last month (because PR reps change all the time), and read to the bottom of the press release, where there is usually a contact name and number. This is the person I want to talk to.
What do you say? You can start by introducing yourself. Don't say that you are just a guy that buys dish soap. Tell them who you are, how influential you are among your circle (not in a pompous way, mind you), and why your recent experience with the client has left you frustrated. You can say that you would love to know how your issue will be resolved, and that you're confident the PR rep can help get your complaint to the right person. Don't be arrogant, don't be demanding. Understand that the PR rep is doing a job, that they don't control how the company does business, and that they want you to be happy. Then sit back and wait.
What happens next? If the PR rep is doing their job (and you haven't been unreasonable in your feedback), they will address the matter. It may take some time for them to do some back-and-forth with the company. Eventually, someone will get back to you.
What if you don't get any results? This does happen. I haven't had it happen to me personally (although I've only had to resort to enlisting the PR rep once or twice, as of late.) If you don't get results, you can try looking for another PR company. Sometimes they switch reps, companies, or go through a period of transition. They may have simply dropped the ball. They may have deemed your complaint unimportant. If you feel that you've been wronged, however, don't give up. (Paul has some great tips for going straight to the top: The CEO.)
I can say that I've known some fabulous PR people who would go to the ends of the earth to straighten out a misunderstanding with a client. They want all to be well in their world, and their job depends on it. Treat them with dignity, the way you would want to be treated, and let them know your qualms. Not enough of them get this kind of feedback for free – they might be thankful to have it.