Peter Shankman is the founder of Help a Reporter Out (HARO), the largest free source repository for journalists in the world, as well as the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, a marketing, branding, and PR company based in New York City with clients worldwide. He also wrote the PR book Can We Do That?!and Customer Service: New Rules for a Social-Enabled World.

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I invited Peter to Marketing Smarts to discuss his most recent book, Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over--and Collaboration Is In.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.

Social media has changed customer service, but it isn't a panacea for addressing customer complaints (4:16): "While business certainly has changed, and social media has been a huge factor in that, what it's done is really allow the basics to shine through. So the concept [is] 'yes, if I'm upset, I'll tweet about it and 100,000 people will see it.' Businesses are responding to the wrong things. They're responding to that. My logic is, respond to creating better customer service, and the thing won't hit Twitter negatively to begin with... The biggest lesson to learn is not so much that social media is changing everything, but, rather, it has never been so important to nail your customer service, and without stellar customer service, your business will die."

Stellar customer service starts with the CEO (5:35): "If the concept of good customer service doesn't come from the CEO down, then it won't succeed... Once you have buy-in from the CEO, every employee has to understand that, without the customer, there's no business. It has to permeate throughout the entire company. Every employee has to teach every other employee that they themselves are the brand face of the business."

"Shred the script" and empower employees to serve customers better (7:44): "If you give employees the ability to screw up, [they] understand that if they cost the company money retaining a customer, they're not going to get in trouble for that, but if they lose the customer because they could have done something and didn't, that's a different issue... If the employee is not afraid to 'shred the script' because they believe they have a better way to fix the problem, you will have incredible results." 

Look to your network for help hiring genuinely nice people who share your passion (28:46): "Ask the people already in [your] network who they'd hire... Hannibal Lecter said it best in Silence of The Lambs... he said 'we covet what we know.' If you're a nice person, you're friends with nice people, because that's what you know... Ask them if they have people who are looking for jobs... Your resume can tell me a lot about you, but it can't tell me if you're nice."

My conversation with Peter included much more. I encourage you to listen to the entire show, which you may do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode! 

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.