The Clark Howard Effect

December 16, 2010

by Roger Pynn

Popular consumer advocate/radio talk show host Clark Howard likes to refer to “customer no service” when companies blow off complaints or requests for help from dissatisfied patrons.  I had an experience the other day that reminded me that those of us in professional services firms have just as much at stake in the listening game.

On a routine visit to a medical specialist’s office, I checked in at the empty lobby and was quickly taken back to a treatment room to wait for the Physicians Assistant I was scheduled to see.  Because I was backlogged with paperwork, I had taken my monthly client reports with me to review and edit so I welcomed a few minutes to pour over the pages that chronicled our service to clients the previous month.

With a sign of relief, I closed the folder having finished all 12 reports and glanced at my watch … one hour after my arrival and appointment time.

Shocked I wandered out into the hallway wondering if I had been forgotten and found two young ladies chatting at the desk.  The look of shock on their face made it clear no one knew I was there, but they explained the PA had been called to an emergency room situation and promised that another PA was on the way and it would only be “a couple of minutes.”

Fifteen minutes later when I walked and said “goodbye, I’m leaving,” the other assistant proclaimed “well you can leave if you want to, but I’m filling out your charts right now.  Don’t you want to wait?”

When I asked “how long will I have to stay?” she replied not with an answer but instead by repeating “well, I’m filling out your charts right now.”

When customers ask questions they want an answer.  It isn’t as if you are talking to a reporter demanding information … you’re talking to someone with whom you have a commercial relationship.

In our Message Matrix® training program that prepares business people for interactions with reporters, we always explain that talking to a reporter does not require an answer, but instead provides an opportunity to respond and get your message across.

The same does not apply to conversations with your client.  They have (or will) pay for your answer.  Get to the point.

Time to Eat Crow

June 1, 2009

by Roger Pynn

“Consumer Warrior” Clark Howard owes public relations people everywhere – as well as consumers who rely on his usually solid judgement – an apology for the slur he threw out this afternoon as part of a story about AT&T’s decision to beef up support for the network that exclusively enables the iPhone.

Clark, since you started out the story by noting it is sometimes healthy to have to eat crow (as did AT&T brass in this case), let’s see how well you enjoy a taste of it yourself. You may want to start by telling the public relations people at AT&T that you didn’t mean to slander them when you said they are supposed to “put a spin on things and not let the story get out.”

And the rest of us who work on behalf of clients and employers to create positive two-way communications with stakeholders and serve as the watchdogs of their reputations would be happy to put some mustard on that crowburger for you.

The audacity to paint a whole profession with that brush surprised me from someone with a normally balanced outlook. How would you like it if someone suggested that all radio show hosts engage in the same sort of slime as Howard Stern?

Check the Code of Ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, Clark.

Good public relations practitioners tell their clients that actions speak louder than words and good words always follow honest action. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of nice things to say about Clark Howard when he’s finished eating.

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