NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2003
Hello, PR? Or, Back Door Tech Help
Bass shows alternative ways to get help
By Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group
(click to email author)

Having trouble getting tech support for the troubling crashes because of your upgrade of SimpleCD Copier? What about the tech people who refuse to replace the failing hard drive in your Zornac notebook (which failed the day after the warranty expired)?

With tech support relying on $3 a day, third-world people, you may have to work harder and dig deeper in order to get the help you need. Fair warning, this is a convoluted process and full of dead-ends, and something only online researchers are going to enjoy.

Hello? Public Relations?
Here's the trick I use when I have a problem with a product and can't get the help I need from tech support. I find the PR person, briefly plead my case, and hope for the best. Most times I get service that's far superior than when calling the company's customer service or tech support line--and often miraculous. (And yes, I even do this anonymously using an e-mail alias, so they don't know about my writing background.)

Here's how I do it. I head for the company's Web site and dig around for the PR representative. If they're listed, it'll likely be either on the "Contact Us" or "About Us" page.

If you can't find that specific page or there's nothing about public relations, head for Google. Try it: In Google's search field, type everything in bold. site:www.microsoft.com press. Substitute another company name for Microsoft and see what happens.

Google Experiments
Unfortunately, some companies refer to PR as Corporate Communication, Media Contact, or PR. (Oddly enough, few companies use "PR flack" or "PR flak.") Well, kids, Google is a powerful tool and if you know the right syntax, it can help you find the PR people, no matter where they're hiding. Try these Google combinations exactly as you see them:

    site:www.microsoft.com pr
    site:www.microsoft.com media contact
    site:www.microsoft.com corporate communication
    site:www.microsoft.com press release

There's no way around that it--you'll need to experiment with Google's syntax. If you use quotes around key words, Google's forced to look for that exact string of characters. In the last example above, wrapping press release in quotes may get you different results. Ditto if you change press release to press contact. Try it. As you begin honing in on your target, add a few more words and make substitutions. For instance, say you're looking for a press person to help you with SharePoint, MS's online collaboration tool. If you tried site:www.microsoft.com "press release" sharepoint, you'd get lots of hits from MS's office in South Africa. Substitute press contact and you hit a few jackpots.

Become a Social Engineer
As you play around, be prepared to hit lots of dead ends. For instance, a buddy of mine was having trouble with his Toshiba notebook. I volunteered to help and used my Google tricks on Toshiba's site. I was quick to find a page full of Toshiba Press Releases. Unfortunately, it showed only old press releases. But down at the bottom was pay dirt: A link that said "Back To Main Press Release Page." I didn't find a PR person for notebooks but did find two contacts that might lead me to the right person. The first was a public relations contact for another Toshiba division, LCD screens; the other was a list of three people at Toshiba's outside PR firm.

My next step was to write to each person and ask if they could connect me with the right PR person, someone who deals with Toshiba notebooks and laptops. I didn't offer a reason why I was asking--I didn't want to let them know I was about to start kvetching. And I wrote them individual e-mails because if I wrote to them all in one e-mail, there's a chance one person might write back and say that they couldn't help; I didn't want everyone to see that. My first dose of bad news bounced right back at me: none of the outside PR e-mail addresses were any good. But the Toshiba LCD screen guy was pleased as punch to supply the name, e-mail address, and phone number of the right PR person at Toshiba.

Case Pleading
The story ends pretty well. My buddy wrote to the public relations person. He pleaded his case and the PR person was able to get Toshiba to replace the hard drive. The key ingredients in his persuasive e-mail and phone call:

    Don't threaten: Explain how you've tried your darndest to work with customer service and tech support. But they were adamant and refused your requests.

    Show loyalty: In this economy, most companies will do their best to get a new customer--and keep an old one. Make sure you let the person know how much you want to remain a customer.

    Try bargaining: If you're willing to help me make this right, you say, I'll do my very best to tell everyone I know how helpful and cooperative you've been. Of course they know the implication--you'll tell everyone what junky products the company produces. But don't say it. No matter how much clout you may have, bullying doesn't always do the trick.

    Beseeching: The product is what I rely on to do my work, you can say, and I beseech you (okay, they won't understand that--use implore, or even beg) to help me get it fixed.

    Move it Up a Notch: Often a PR person will tell you that their hands are tied. Ask if you can talk directly to the person who did the tying. Often you'll end up talking to a product manager who can make things right with a quick e-mail.

If you think about it, these methods will not only work with computing and software companies, but with practically any product. In the meantime, my dogs are snubbing their Science Diet kibble so I'm off to find a four-legged PR person.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check his Home Office columns at http://snurl.com/homeoffice and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://snurl.com/signup

Click here to return to top