CK Insights

January 24, 2012

Lessons Learned on Email Over-Reliance

cooperkatz

For the most part, Public Relations plays a ‘behind-the-scenes’ role — promoting, driving visibility and managing the reputation of companies and brands. It is rare that we, the PR folks, are in the media spotlight. Sometimes, when we are it is not for good reason. This was the case for Ocean Marketing’s Paul Christoforo, the former representative for N-Control’s Avenger controller attachment who also doubled as their customer service agent. He was recently entangled in a hostile email exchange with an N-Control customer, Dave, that went viral after it was posted on the Penny Arcade blog.

For the most part, Public Relations plays a ‘behind-the-scenes’ role — promoting, driving visibility and managing the reputation of companies and brands. It is rare that we, the PR folks, are in the media spotlight. Sometimes, when we are it is not for good reason. This was the case for Ocean Marketing’s Paul Christoforo, the former representative for N-Control’s Avenger controller attachment who also doubled as their customer service agent. He was recently entangled in a hostile email exchange with an N-Control customer, Dave, which went viral after it was posted on the Penny Arcade blog. Mr. Christoforo’s ‘poor communication’ with first Dave and then Mike Krahulik, head of Penny Arcade, ultimately led to the demise of his relationship with N-Control and the media crucifixion that followed

First, let me say that the lessons learned from this incident have wider implications beyond PR, because communication is the lifeblood of every organization. It is a fundamental necessity in order to exist and thrive. Without it projects / plans cannot be accomplished. So, it is ironic when communications disciplines within an organization are overlooked and misused. Secondly, those who specialize in communications (i.e., PR, marketing, customer service, etc.) are the ‘face’ of an organization, as such should know better than to engage in a war of words.

That said, cases like Mr. Christoforo’s are extremely rare. I will vouch that most PR and marketing professionals are well behaved and are excellent communicators. Even then, it is sad to see someone in our line of work (or someone who presumes to be) go down in flames — not that he didn’t deserve it, from what we can read. But, for the rest of us it’s a good reminder of what not to do, especially if we’re involved in launching a new product or service.

Here are a couple morals to this story —

Have a contingency plan

Product delays are as common as traffic in Los Angeles. In the gaming industry, this is especially true. As part of the PR plan for the Avenger, Mr. Christoforo should have worked with N-Control to create a series of prepared Q & A’s to deal with scenarios such as shipment delays, and use their Web platforms (Website, Twitter page, Facebook page) to provide regular updates to customers. It is pretty evident from reading Mr. Christoforo’s vague answers and the customer’s increasingly frustrated responses that there was no Q & A responses prepared.

Know your audiences

The email exchanges with Dave and then with Mike Krahulik show that Christoforo did not know N-Control’s key audience base. Penny Arcade is a popular gaming Website (which also runs a major gaming expo). As N-Control’s representative, he should have done his due diligence before responding to Mr. Krahulik. At the very least, he could have Googled Krahulik’s name before sending such a flippant response.

When initiating a communications plan for a new service or product, it’s vital that you know your audiences, identify the thought leaders in these groups (i.e., Mike Krahulik) and how they communicate. Further to that, PR professionals should know that unhappy customers often go to the media when they experience poor customer service, and gamers often go to the Internet.

Choose the communications platform by the situation

One of the best lessons I learned in graduate school was that every time you attempt to communicate, there is a 50 percent chance you will miscommunicate.

While there is no foolproof method, PR pros know how to engage effectively across multiple communications platforms (i.e., in-person, telephone, Internet, etc.) and are mindful in how we use them. Getting entangled in a nasty email exchange is certainly NOT being mindful, especially if you are trying to resolve an issue.

For all the benefits of email, it has its shortfalls and it is often so overused to the point it is misused. This month, new reports on Internet addiction surfaced citing it as a worldwide issue, leading to ‘new forms of rudeness.’ Email, social media and texting lack a lot of vital non-verbal cues (i.e., tone of voice) and immediacy that you get from a face-to-face or telephone conversation (or in today’s tech age, video conferencing) and that are often necessary when people are looking for an urgent response or hoping to resolve an issue. This may be why the teleservices industry is booming. And, yes, social media is also widely used in customer service (and just about everywhere else), but again is not always appropriate for every situation.

When you are mindful, you will find that sometimes it pays to take a break from your tablet, smart phone or your laptop and simply pick of the old-school telephone. If face-to-face is not an option, let’s concede that video chat comes close.

Put your ego aside

Take it like a pro! Those in our field of work understand that it’s not about us; it’s first and foremost about the brands we represent – and the people who buy and use those brands. As an extension of our clients, it’s likely the negative feedback is not directed at us, personally. But, there is a flip side. PR is like a marriage and your client is like your spouse. What you put out there is a direct reflection on them. If what you are writing is not something you would want your client to see later, don’t write it. Further to that, if it is going to get you in any sort of trouble, chances are you shouldn’t say it at all regardless of the communications medium you are using.

While the media hype around Mr. Christoforo has died down since the story first broke, there are lessons (or good reminders) from this email incident that can be applied for the longer term.

Everyone makes mistakes or has a ‘bad day’ from time-to-time. But, for those in professional communications this is what we know (and should be able to do best). If we can’t get that right, we – like Mr. Christoforo – are a fish out of water.

 


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