Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Relative Relations 

This story is an eyeopener. The University of Michigan has a customer satisfaction index and the latest edition of it shows that mobile-phone service was the second-lowest-ranked industry topping only cable providers.

But there is something odd about the results. Millions use both cable and mobile phones and they are not giving them up. People are not mounting aerials on their chimneys and going back to wire phones. Consumers have made a relative calculation about mobile phones and cable. They dislike the customer service but they like the products and they are willing to sacrifice to have them. The sacrifice comes in terms of poorer phone calls and billing madness as well as cable packages that seem to be priced arbitrarily.

In other words, public relations is relative. It has no absolute standards for what is a good relationship with customers and others. Standards are gauged against other competitors. But as long as all competitors in an industry have mediocrity as a standard, consumers will accept it, if they value the service enough.

What this means to PR practitioners is not always pleasing. There are conditions in every industry that we serve, which we would like to change. But as long as competitors have the same conditions, executives are often content to leave things as they are. Should a competitor be able to make a profound breakthrough in service, the rest of the industry much catch up -- or die.

Interestingly enough, the cable industry in the US is in tougher competition now against satellite TV and local telephone carriers for broadband services. Cable has shown itself worthy in holding back competition by upgrading services it should have improved a long time ago. There is a new relationship being built, and it has a higher standard.

Ask yourself about the relativity your organization has with key publics.


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