Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ethics & Integrity in Public Relations

I love my job — both of them. By day, I am a publicist for an airline, and by night, I am an adjunct professor in a university’s mass communications department. I fell in love with public relations my sophomore year in college. I had no idea people made a “career” out of being puppet masters; but it was much more than that, as I would come to learn throughout my undergraduate years.

One of the things I learned during my studies and early career days was the need for honesty and integrity in public relations. That’s a given, I used to think, but I am learning more and more that nothing — especially morally sound professionals — is a given.

Last night, the topic of discussion in my introductory public relations class was ethics. I spend an entire class period (three hours and 10 minutes) on the importance of ethical behavior in business and public relations. Ethics is defined as moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. More importantly, ethics is:

that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

So why is it that so many practitioners are willing to turn a blind eye to doing the right thing just to achieve 15 minutes of fame for their clients? Is the need for publicity that important? Do the ends really justify the means?

One of my past clients asked me to intentionally lie to a reporter, and when I refused, he lied to his business partner and blamed the resulting bad publicity on me. Naturally, the business partner was furious and I took a little flack for it, but I still had my integrity and good name. In the end, I explained everything to the business partner without throwing my client under the bus. The business partner was able to piece things together on his own and quickly realized what transpired, but I felt awful. I was angry that I was put into that position; angry that I had to defend myself and my position; and angry that the business partner ended up being portrayed negatively. I ultimately stopped working for the client because I could not continue working for someone with less than ethical business practices. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time I walked away from a client, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Recently, I found myself in a similar situation, and I had to ask myself, ‘are you being sanctimonious, or is this really a situation where you need to stand on the side of truth?’ Truth be told: I’ve been in this business for 17 years and I plan to be around for at least another 17. As more and more practitioners enter the public relations field and business are started and evolve, there will likely be additional opportunities for your principles to be tested. Personally, I refuse to bend my principles or sacrifice my integrity just to pacify a client or make nice with my boss. My reputation is important to me. While most people can justify their professional decisions by claiming a separation of church and state, my name is my personal brand and my word is my bond.

My mom used to tell me that honesty is the best policy, and that is what I teach my daughter and students. The truth may be less than ideal or sting for a moment, but in the long run, you and those whom you represent will be better for it. My advice to anyone who is ever in this position, “always speak the truth — even if your voice shakes.”

RĂ©al serves as the Group Director, Corporate Communications for Sims Metal Management and is responsible for developing and executing the company’s global internal and external communications strategy. She is a seasoned forward-thinking, results-oriented professional with an extensive background spanning several industries.
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Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday Funny

Multilanguage Support in the Contact Center

In today’s business world, the desire to reach more consumers is a top priority. With global online purchasing easier to accommodate, and businesses expanding into new geographies, one can naturally expect a surge in non-English speaking customers. This is certainly having an impact on contact center strategies as we must determine how to provide support to these new clients. For enterprise level organizations with a global presence, the infrastructure may already be in place to address this. For those without, including the small-to-medium sized company, perhaps this presents a dilemma. How does a contact center without a formal multilingual support system handle non-English calls?

Before you answer, certain considerations must be made. It’s worth determining the percentage of your client base that is non-English speaking. Are these high value clients? Where are they located? These are just a few areas that must be analyzed. However, there are many, many more. In my mind, these questions should not be used to determine if baseline support will be offered to these customers. Every customer deserves your assistance! The end goal is to develop a plan that works best for the company AND the customer while enhancing the overall experience.

One should never lose sight of the customer experience. There are numerous studies that highlight how significant the customer experience is to your bottom line. They clearly link customer experience to customer engagement, and to the customer’s lifetime value. Are you still not convinced? Research also shows a rise in customer defections after only one bad experience! For those of us in the contact center, failing the customer is not an option.

I truly see the need for foreign language support. Not only are non-native English speakers moving to the US, but global markets are in need of services provided by US companies. If your product serves an international customer base, your support center needs to be able to handle it as well. While solely offering English support seems to do the trick for some companies, the lack of additional languages in the support center could ultimately be hurting long-term business.

Make no mistake; supporting additional languages is harder than one may think. For example, if you’re offering technical support, not only are you in need of someone with strong technical skills, but you also must look for someone that can speak the necessary foreign language. Not to mention, they need to meet all other criteria that you’re looking for. By simply adding that highly sought after foreign language as a criteria, your pool of applicants has nearly emptied. So what is one to do?

One contact center I am familiar with realized it was feasible to staff their team with new multilingual agents. They utilized Google translate to assist customers via email. As this is a small service center, this solution worked very well for them. This is not a viable approach for everyone. Perhaps an alternative is to contract with a language interpreter service. Whether on demand or onsite, these providers offer turnkey solution for your interpretation needs, often at a lower cost than hiring new staff.

When it comes to multi-language support, not only is the language itself different, but the culture behind the language is different. Whoever your customer base may be, it’s important to have native speakers, or highly fluent speakers familiar with the culture, and ready to assist. They’ll better understand the customer, and can then easily provide a better customer experience.

I have over 15 years of progressive customer service leadership experience in the public, private and government sectors. I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.

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