Are you overlooking some of the most valuable members of your communications team?

I'm often asked why I frequently write and speak about customer service when my topic is PR and marketing. While every single employee, contractor, vendor and service provider has some influence over how people perceive your business, the folks who interact directly with your customers/clients are among the most important. That includes receptionists, security guards, call center workers and customer service reps on the floor or in the complaints/returns department. Yet many companies give anything more than lip service to this idea.

You can have all the positive PR, effective marketing and extreme good will in the world, but a bad experience with one of these employees can do a world of hurt. This has always been true -- even back in the day when all we had to worry about in my family's gourmet grocery was one or two ladies getting pissed and telling their entire bridge group or members of their party line. Today, it's so much easier for unhappy customers to reach well beyond their own networks with ill will toward you firm. The upside, of course, is that delighted customers can spread the word far and wide, too.

Engage your customer-facing team members as if they were full-on members of your PR team. Train them well. Make sure they know their linchpin role for your company. Heck, give them all copies of Seth Godin's Linchpin and create a team meeting/book talk to dig into it. And, of course, walk your talk.