This post was first published by Brette Querzoli on March Communications’ blog PR Nonsense.
Since I was old enough to have a job, I worked in customer service. As it turns out, all of those years serving food or selling clothes brought me more than just a paycheck – the lessons I learned directly correlated to the basic skills I would need to become a tech PR professional.
I’ve worked as a sales associate, a telemarketer and a waitress, and each taught me something invaluable that helped me find some footing at the beginning of my PR career. So, if you are looking to get a start in public relations, here are three lessons from customer service jobs that can help ease the transition.
1. Be Proactive
The first job I ever held was at Dunkin’ Donuts, working the 6am shift on Sundays. This was a very popular time for people to grab their morning coffees, so making sure everything was set up and stocked was important. Having backup milk or coffee beans on hand would save me a ton of time during a customer rush, and anticipating a customer’s needs, even if it’s something as simple as extra sugar or a tray, would have them feeling happy and well cared for as they left.
This is one of the most important lessons you can learn in PR. Showing initiative to go above and beyond for yourself, your team and your clients will save you time and energy, as well as demonstrate your ability to think ahead and plan. Knowing the wants and needs of a client, or even a reporter, before they ask, makes you look competent, professional and put-together.
2. Prepare for the Unexpected
In both customer service and tech PR, things change at the drop of a hat, so knowing how to handle unexpected situations will be key in your development. I could go on about situations I’ve experienced as a waitress that required fast thinking – running out a special 20 minutes after a customer ordered it, fighting a seagull off someone’s dinner, being understaffed in a rush, and so on. I’ve even had a customer demand all of his oysters be the same size, or else he would send them back (which he did). Similarly, no matter how crazy the situation may seem, being in tech PR requires you to be able to think on your feet and handle any situation thrown at you. For example, if your client’s huge launch gets put on hold last minute or a reporter decides not to honor an embargo, it’s imperative that you can manage what happens next smoothly and gracefully.
3. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
As cheesy as it sounds, having a team you can depend on is more than a necessity – it can make or break your relationships with clients or customers. For example, as a server, you often work long hours without breaks. Customers are constantly coming in, so if you need to step out for five minutes, you’ll need someone to “watch your tables.” As we know from Murphy’s Law, in those five minutes, your table’s food will arrive, customers will need you and the restaurant will fill up. If you don’t have coworkers to trust or rely on, not only will your tips suffer, but the business as a whole will too.
This is how it works in tech PR as well. Your day will fill up with items faster than you can blink (see lesson 2), and having a trusted team beside you will help you handle any hurdles put in front of you. Also, customer service and tech PR are both about being the liaison between a variety of people. This means managing a multitude of personalities, which is difficult if you are a lone rider. Dispersing roles and tasks among your teammates can help take the heat off any one person.
The End Result
Whether it’s serving food, selling clothes or servicing clients, at the end of the day the end-goal is the same: make your customers and clients happy. If you can learn these lessons quickly, then you’ve secured yourself some strong footing to launch you into your tech PR career and make the transition that much smoother!