You constantly hear that listening and feedback are the keys to improving your marketing, your products, and your services. But are you listening selectively?
I’ve always found constructive criticism to be much more useful than praise. And even angry complaints can contain valuable feedback. Tuning out everything but the nice stuff is clearly a bad idea for your business.
Today, Jay Baer joins me to discuss the premise of his new book, Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. The book offers useful, actionable advice on how to succeed in the age of customer empowerment.
Naturally, we have to unpack what he means by “haters.” Does this mean feed the trolls? Entertain the entitled? Tune in to find out the answers to these questions, plus several interesting examples of how embracing complaints is a winning business strategy.
The Show Notes
- JayBaer.com (on Rainmaker)
- Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers
- How Digital Marketing Has Changed Customer Expectations
- Rainmaker Platform
Why Customer Complaints are a Valuable Business Asset
Jay Baer: I’m Jay Baer. I am a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, consultant, the world’s most retweeted person amongst digital marketers, and I am truly unemployable.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our Free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Hello there, my fellow Unemployables, welcome to episode 41 of the show. You know, it seems like just yesterday that we were on episode 40. That’s what’s called “a dad joke.” That’s the kind of thing I say to my daughter who’s 13 and she gives me that glare, which brings me so much delight. Oh, it’s the little things.
All right, let’s move on before I dig myself a hole here.
Okay, listening — you constantly hear from me especially, but from lots of other people, that listening and feedback are the keys to improving your marketing, your products, your services, your business. But are you listening selectively? That’s really the issue.
Now, I’ve always found constructive criticism to be much more useful in a business context than praise. And even angry complaints can contain valuable feedback. They’re not as pleasant, but there are nuggets of wisdom in there that you can use. Tuning everything out but the nice stuff is clearly a bad idea for your business, especially in the online age of customer empowerment.
Today, Jay Baer joins me to discuss the premise of his new book. It’s called Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. I will say that the book offers useful, actionable advice on how to succeed in the age of customer empowerment. And you’re going hear all about that from Jay.
Naturally though, I have to unpack what he means by “haters.” Does this mean feed the trolls? Entertain the entitled? You’re going to have to keep listening to find out the answers to those questions.
He also has several interesting examples of how embracing complaints is a winning business strategy. So, without further ado.
Jay Baer, how the hell are you, sir?
Jay Baer: I’m hanging in there. Snow is coming down right now outside my door. I am living the dream. It’s all coming up sixes and nines for me, my friend.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I continue to be impressed. We always talk about how we have very different business models. You really enjoy getting out there and speaking even when it’s a hassle. And I like to stay home and only get on airplanes when I go on vacation. But it’s working out for us both.
Jay Baer: It is. Look, I don’t think I ever told you this story, but I thought at this point in my career, I would be teaching college. My goal was to go be a college professor. And I had lots of opportunities to do that. When I sold my last company, I thought I would have the money to do that, but then the simultaneous collapse of the US stock market and real estate market changed those plans.
So, I thought, “I need to go do something else,” and I started Convince & Convert eight years ago, and discovered that actually I am a teacher now just on a much larger canvas than I could ever be in the classroom. Every day I get up and I’m either teaching clients on the consulting side, or I’m teaching business people from a podcasting perspective, or I’m teaching audiences on stage, or I’m teaching lots of different people between the covers of a book.
It took me a long time to figure out that I actually accomplished my goal. I just did it in a much different way and frankly, a more lucrative way.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I make that point all the time, because 20 years ago when I was unhappily practicing law for a big law firm, the idea of being a professor was very attractive to me. I think maybe there’s something innate in certain people that would find that maybe not so lucrative, maybe a lot of academic squabbling and whatnot, but it still seems attractive.
But I wouldn’t trade the ability to teach in the context that we do now to go into academia, just wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. As you said, much more lucrative.
Jay Baer: Well, and people in academia are employable. Because they have to live by a…
Brian Clark: Exactly, I don’t think I fit in.
Jay Baer: I’ve realized that now. I mean, I live in a college town, you live in a college town. A lot of my friends are business school professors and the like, and God, I love those guys. But man, when we go to dinner and have a few glasses of wine and I start to hear what it’s really like day-to-day I’m like, “I would be kicked out in three months. They could not deal with my level of intensity and speed and just lack of status quo acceptance.” It just would not work out.
The New Book
Brian Clark: I hear that, amen. All right, so you are a New York Times bestselling author — thank you for pointing that out. That’s the one thing I haven’t gotten to tell my mom that I’ve done and I probably never will at this point.
Jay Baer: She won’t even know, just make it up.
Brian Clark: You have a new book coming out now actually.
Jay Baer: It’s out. As we’re recording this show, we don’t know whether we’re going to make any sort of a bestseller list with this book. I hope so, but time will tell.
The book is called Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers. And I’ve got to tell you, it’s a tricky book to write.
The reason I wrote this book is, as a consultant, I saw that customer service is being disrupted the same way that marketing has been disrupted by many of the same factors: technology, mobile, consumer behavior shifts, demographic changes, etc.
But everybody’s using a customer service playbook from 1995. And we’ve got so much conversation and so much best practices and so much case studies around the shifts in marketing, but comparatively few in customer service. It’s really ridiculous.
Part of the reason we haven’t seen that shift is that everybody thinks they’re good at customer service. There’s some research from Forrester that I cite in the book, I think really nails it. It says that 80% of businesses say that they deliver superior customer service. 8% of their customers agree. So, everybody thinks they’re good at this except for the customers whose opinion actually matters.
And I’ve got to tell you, Brian, as an author, writing a book about customer service and marketing a book about customer service is hard, because people are like, “Well, why would I need a book on customer service? I already know that.”
And then they read the book and are like, “Oh my God, I’m not nearly as good at this as I thought.”
Customer Experience and Consumer Empowerment
Brian Clark: Yeah, you’ve touched on a couple of things there. I do want to talk to you first and foremost about this title which is provocative and amazing, and yet, brings questions to my mind.
But first, you brought something up, because you cannot escape the words “customer experience” and “consumer empowerment.”
I was just reading a fascinating article (I’ll link it up in the show notes) about how it was digital marketing that actually led to most of this empowerment. I mean, by creating so much accessible information, we inevitably put the buyer’s journey under their control, the customer experience subject to being disrupted by a competitor at any time.
Either your book is incredibly well-timed, because people are going to start waking up to this or do you think they’re still not waking up?
Jay Baer: They are starting to wake up to it, but they’re not sure how to actually do it.
You don’t need a book from me to understand that customer service is becoming a spectator sport. That it’s no longer about phone and email, but increasingly, it’s about customer reaction and customer relationships playing out in full view of everybody. That is an amazing opportunity to turn customer service into the new marketing, but it’s also an opportunity to really, really do yourself a disservice.
What’s shocking to me is that one-third of all customer complaints are ignored, are never answered. Most of those are in social media, review sites, discussion boards and forums — places where people can actually see you ignoring them.
And that doesn’t make any sense to me at all. In fact, it should probably be the opposite. If you’ve got to choose, you should probably answer the phone less and answer Facebook more, because at least on Facebook, people are watching you.
What Is the Premise of Hug Your Haters?
Brian Clark: Yeah, excellent point. Okay, let’s zero in on this. Hug Your Haters, in a nutshell, what’s the premise?
Jay Baer: When I say “haters,” what I mean in the parlance of the book is anybody who complains. Not necessarily only trolls, but just anybody who complains. And so, realistically, the title of the book should be Hug Your Complainers, but that’s a shitty book title. So, that’s why it’s Hug Your Haters.
One of the things I’m really proud of, Brian, is that almost every business book, and certainly almost every customer service book, is based on advice and anecdote. “I’m an expert to do these things, because I say so. Please trust me.” That’s the business book formula. I’ve written four of them before this.
This time, I didn’t want to do that, because everybody thinks they’re already good at customer service. And I said, “The only way they’re going to believe me that they’re not good is if I had something to hang those recommendations on.”
So, I partnered with Tom Webster, a terrific guy who I know you know from the Edison Research. And he and I and his firm did an enormous study on the science of complaint. We surveyed thousands and thousands of people about who complains and where they complain and why and how. I originally thought that the premise of this book was going to be to be faster, that you have to be faster, faster, faster. That’s true.
But it turns out that the biggest opportunity for business in a customer service context isn’t to be fast. It’s just to show up. It’s just to actually answer your customers. It turns out that every time you answer a complaint, it increases customer advocacy significantly. Every time you ignore a complaint, it decreases customer advocacy significantly.
The premise of the book, the core advice in the book is to answer every complaint in every channel, every time. Every complaint, every channel, every time. That’s the Hug Your Haters formula. Lots of steps and process and worksheets and things like that to figure out how to do that in the book, but that’s the advice.
Negative Feedback vs. Negative People
Brian Clark: Over my entrepreneurial career, but especially in the last decade, the Copyblogger era, we’ve accumulated 160,000 something customers. On one hand, I love this book already, because the feedback that we got from content led to product development, led to new products, better products, services, etc. And most of the most valuable feedback was actually in the form of a complaint.
Now, I would say what our moms used to call “constructive criticism” is what you like the best. Sometimes it’s saucy, but you can still appreciate that maybe someone’s having a bad day or whatever.
But I’ve also dealt with some people that are malicious. They are possibly mentally ill, they are trolls of the highest order. And I made so many mistakes by taking those people on. Number one, because I didn’t have the maturity, I think, to keep my cool. That was my bad.
But almost engaging them at all goes against some of the advice out there for this type of person. I’m not talking about a reasonable person with a complaint. I’m talking about a crazy person.
Jay Baer: Yep, there are a few things there that I want to unpack. The first, and you hit on a really important point, which is the importance of negative feedback.
The most overrated thing in business, in fact, I would say the most overrated thing in life is praise. Because every time somebody says, “Oh, you’re great at this, you’re great at that, that’s awesome,” it makes you feel really good, but it almost never teaches you anything. You probably know what you’re good at. And so all you’re doing is satisfying your own ego.
Negative feedback is where you learn everything. It’s the petri dish for improvement. It’s also the petri dish for content marketing. If you want to figure out what you should be making content about, go talk to customer service and say, “What are people complaining about?” Make content about that.
There’s a story in the book about Le Pain Quotidien, which is a chain of bakeries and cafes. They’re based in Brussels. They have some locations in SoCal, the northeast. When their director of customer experience started there, she said, “My goal for this company is to triple the number of complaints. Not get fewer complaints, more complaints, because every complaint is a lesson. It’s an opportunity to get better.”
I think we tend to treat haters and complainers like our least important customers, but they’re really our most important customers. So, that’s one thing.
Now you touched on a different point also, which is really important, which is the whole trolls and how to not get sucked into the vortex of negativity. I think one of my very favorite lessons in the book is Jay Baer’s Rule of Reply Only Twice. My Rule of Reply Only Twice says that you never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever under any circumstances — positive, negative or neutral — reply to a person more than twice online. Because it’s either a waste of time or it’s counterintuitive and potentially dangerous.
So, if somebody is a really negative person and has some crazy, “I hate you,” you answer back, “We’re really sorry.” They say, “No, I really hate you.” You answer back the second time, “We’d love to talk to you about this rationally. Maybe we should do this over email.” And if they keep going, you just walk away. You just walk away. You only answer twice.
Brian Clark: That’s so interesting. This is something I’ve noticed on my own. I’ve never talked to him about it, but Seth Godin will always only reply once. He’ll come by, he’ll respond and you’ll never see him again even if 50 people follow up on that. That’s interesting. It’s smart. I always admired his ability to do that. But it is smart, because at some point, you just can’t say anything more.
Jay Baer: You don’t need to be right, you just need to be on record. Remember, it’s a spectator sport. It’s not about that one person.
I mean, clearly you want to make that hater happy, you want to hug them. That’s the premise of the book.
But in these online venues — Facebook, Twitter, blog comments, Yelp, whatever — recognize that you’re not just talking to that person, you’re talking to everybody, which could be tens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of people.
Once that person gets crazy, you’ve done what you need to do. You’ve given them not just one, but two chances. You’ve been rational. Everybody else realizes that that person is irrational and you’re rational, and you’ve shown your values. You’ve shown that you listen, that you care. But you don’t need to wrestle everybody to the ground. It doesn’t do any good to try and go that way.
I do believe that customers are not always right by any stretch of the imagination, but they should always be heard. And even the ones who are malicious and angry and ridiculous, I think you should answer all of them at least once and then move on.
The Importance of Responding to Complaints
Brian Clark: That seems to assume that it’s a public complaint, which I agree is increasingly the norm. But you also get feedback, again, playing devil’s advocate from our own experience.
With very select people, the flip side of empowerment is entitlement and it is impossible to satisfy that person. You can’t create a feature for someone’s pet project when you don’t have a consensus enough among your base to make that worthwhile. But of course, that’s not going to satisfy this person.
Do you deal with the topic of entitlement being an offshoot or a symptom of empowering?
Jay Baer: Not necessarily. What I would tell you is that the research shows that the vast majority of the advocacy increase that you find when you interact with complainers happens during the answer, not the resolution.
What I mean by that is that if you answer just one customer complaint, it can increase that customer’s loyalty to you by 10 to 50% depending on what channel they complain in. If you then solve the problem, you get a slight bonus. But most of the loyalty accrues just by answering them, not by satisfying them. So responding and listening is chicken. Resolution is gravy on top of that chicken.
In your circumstance, no, you don’t need to add a feature, you just need to say, “Thank you for the recommendation. We may not be able to incorporate this into the software, but we really appreciate you taking your own time to let us know what you’d like to see.”
That’s it. You don’t have to go any farther than that. And in most cases, that person may not be delighted, because you didn’t do everything they wanted, but they will feel a heck of a lot better than if you just deleted it.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it’s almost like, “Hear your haters, respond to your haters,” and beyond that, there’s only so much you can do. That data is fascinating, because that’s the bulk of it.
Jay Baer: There’s other research — this particular piece isn’t from me, but it’s cited in the book — that shows that customers who have a problem and that problem is resolved are more loyal than customers who never had a problem at all. To which I think if I owned a software company, I would make sure to build a problem in there that we know we can fix, so that you actually trigger that loyalty effect in every customer.
When Complaints Are Misunderstandings
Brian Clark: Yeah, let’s shift gears a little bit. Again, I haven’t gotten to read the book yet. I’m going to get to it just as soon as possible now that it’s out. But it’s almost more fun to talk to you without having read it, because I get to hear some really great answers.
The whole concept of when you need to fire a customer or a client, you’ve attracted the wrong type of customer — there’s a lot of advice out there that says that there should be no shame in running off the people you don’t want, so that you can keep more and focus more on the people that you get.
That’s good advice in my opinion. But so often, I think people hear that as, “If you’re a complainer, you’re the wrong customer.” And that’s 100% false.
Jay Baer: Yeah, 100%, you’re exactly right. Look, if you want to select a particular type of customer to work with, because that is your strategy, great.
But if your policy is anybody who doesn’t love you unconditionally is a bad customer and not worthy of your time, and you don’t want their money, you’re going to have a real problem in business. Because if somebody doesn’t like you or doesn’t like your product or doesn’t like your service, that’s not their fault. That is almost always your fault.
We’re so quick to blame the customers. I hear this as a consultant all the time. “Well, they’re just a bad customer,” or, “That review is full of lies.” I’m like, “Is it really? Is it full of lies or is it just that you didn’t communicate well enough so that they didn’t know what to expect? And so their expectations are different than what they perhaps should have been?”
So much of what you see that turns into negative feedback online is a misunderstanding. What I will tell you is that if there’s a misunderstanding, that’s the businesses’ fault, it’s not the customer’s fault. It’s not the customer’s responsibility to understand every line of your terms and conditions. It’s your responsibility to make sure they understand what they should expect.
The Overcommunication Myth
Brian Clark: Yeah, that’s a nice segue into something you call the “overcommunication myth” — another lesson I’ve learned the hard way. Most of my lessons are learned the hard way.
I tend to be overly rational and logical and I’ll say, “Well, there’s nothing really to say right now, so we won’t say anything.” Now, on the other hand, I got really down on some of my people — one time, because they learned not to make me angry. They knew there was a problem pending and they didn’t communicate it. I think that’s more cut and dry.
But talk a little bit about the overcommunication myth and how we’re not communicating, even beyond necessity, we’re not communicating enough.
Jay Baer: Well, we always feel like we have educated and informed customers appropriately. Nobody feels like they didn’t do it enough. Nobody sits around in a conference room and says, “You know what our problem is, we don’t tell customers enough information.” Even if that is your problem, you never think that’s your problem. But in many cases, it really is, because we assume that people read instructions.
Here’s a perfect example. I sold a bunch of these books online on hugyourhaters.com. Big, big, big, and that is a Rainmaker Platform project — thank you very much. Could not recommend it more highly, it is unbelievably easy to use.
So, I’m on Rainmaker, hugyourhaters.com powers the book sales — big, big, big disclaimer in multiple places: “Hey, I can only ship this book to you, because of international book shipping rules, to the US and Canada.” However, I have orders — and thank you for your cash — but now I have to find a way to fulfill these books from India and Pakistan and Romania. And I’m working with Romania Amazon, we think that we wrote it down, so they’ve got it and they don’t.
I learned my own lesson in that regard about overcommunication as a myth.
There are some great examples in the book, one in particular from a company called Square Cow Movers, which is a moving company based in Austin. They learned a lot of lessons about that, where customers were confused or didn’t understand exactly what was going to happen. When you’re moving people’s stuff, they get real panicky about that, like, “You’re touching my stuff.”
They audited all their communication processes, all the different places that they actually talk to customers, and then they doubled it. They literally increased their customer communication by 100%, because they wanted to make sure that nobody ever was confused or under-informed.
After they did that, they felt internally like, “Well, this is ridiculous. This is way, way, way, way, way over the top. Nobody needs to hear from us this much.” And their owner said, “Nobody has ever said you’re overcommunicating. No customer ever, ever, ever has said, ‘That’s too much information.’”
So, this idea that overcommunication is a problem — it’s never a problem. We just typically don’t put enough time into essentially creating redundancies for our communication.
Content Born from Customer Service
Brian Clark: Yes, it’s an excellent point, but it also touches on something that you touched on briefly a second ago. You want a content marketing strategy, go talk to customer service. Find out what the repeated problems are and solve those with more information. Hey, that also acts as marketing. What a concept.
When you say we can’t overcommunicate, I think people think, “Well, we can overmarket.” But let’s go back to Youtility, the book you wrote before which is fantastic. What’s the utility of that information? Is it positive and value-oriented toward them and their concerns? Or is it just self-serving because you want to move some more product?
Jay Baer: Yeah, I think, generally speaking, when you’re creating content that is born from customer service, usually that content is more around process and explanation than it is around customer acquisition and features and benefits. That’s been my experience.
So, it’s lower in the funnel ratification type content, where you’re like, “Okay, yep, it’s the last mile.” I totally agree now and it does head off some of those questions that might bubble up.
I mean, Amazon has an amazing policy internally that they can’t always follow, of course, as a practical matter, but this is their goal. Which is to never answer the same question twice. Their goal is, “If we get a question, we have somehow failed. Our content is not good enough, our content is not in the right place. Our content is not comprehensive enough if we ever get the same question twice.”
Again, that’s impossible to actually execute on in practice, because people ask all number of crazy things. But as a spiritual guide, I think it’s brilliant.
Brian Clark: Yeah, we do that ourselves. And I wasn’t aware that Amazon had that policy until I read it in a post you wrote for us. But that’s our goal: never answer the same question twice. It’s impossible, absolutely impossible to ever achieve, but it’s certainly worthwhile to pursue. And I think that’s a strategy.
How to Incorporate This Strategy
Brian Clark: It’s an interesting point you had about this type of content is lower down the funnel. It’s the last mile. I think that’s instructive in the way to incorporate that within a broader strategy. Any quick tips on that from a content standpoint? From the book or from your experience?
Jay Baer: Yeah, one of the lessons in the book, there’s a company called Wink Frozen Desserts. Wink makes a product that’s sold in the freezer case in a grocer. It’s sold adjacent to the ice cream, but it’s gluten-free, it’s sugar-free, it’s everything free. But it’s sold in ice cream style, half pint containers like Ben and Jerry’s. And they have lots of exotic flavors like Chocolate Mocha Fudge or whatever. It’s almost like Cool Whip with better flavors. That’s essentially the product.
But the challenge is that it’s sold right next to ice cream. So what happens quite a bit for them is that people freak out when they get it. They’re like, “I thought this was going to be basically just like ice cream light and it’s totally different and I don’t like it and it sucks.”
They’re great at customer service, by the way. They really handle those kind of questions very well, and they always tell the story about Gabe, who’s their founder, who has celiac disease and created this so that he could have a dessert that he could enjoy. It’s a really nice, very human story way of describing the genesis of the product.
But when I talked to them, I said, “Geez, if I were you guys, I would take all this feedback — why everyone’s always confused about the fact that it’s not ice cream — and I would create a bunch of content marketing around that to make those differences clear. And maybe even do it in the real world, like shelf talkers and change your packaging and things like that. Because you’re just setting yourself up. Basically, by not using content or other mechanisms to draw that distinction more sharply, you’re creating the potential for dissatisfaction in customers, and that can be solved. It should be solved.”
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely.
Brian Clark: Jay, I appreciate you taking time to be on the show. I always love talking to you. I have a feeling this book is going to be big. We’ll see. It’s certainly well-timed.
I think the important thing here is it may be counterintuitive, which I think could help it sell, but it’s totally doable. Right? It’s not really rocket science. You just have to be willing to listen and respond.
Jay Baer: You know what it is? It’s more of a cultural circumstance. Like, “Do you really care? Do you really care about your customers? Are you really willing to go the extra mile?” Some of it is cultural, some of it is resources. To do what I’m asking you to do, to answer every complaint in every channel, every time, that requires resources that you may not be doing right now.
But it’s crazy how we don’t do that. Globally, we spend about $500 billion a year on marketing, and about $9 billion a year on customer service. That doesn’t actually make much sense when you think about how important customer retention is.
A lot of this isn’t so much rocket science, but it’s just realigning your priorities internally to say, “Yeah, you know what? Customer service is the new marketing.”
If I ask you right now, Brian, if I ask anybody listening, “Who’s really good at customer service?” You can name two or three companies off the top of your head. Why? Because they’re so rare, because great customer service is exceptional. It is remarkable in the true sense of that word, and that it is worthy of remark. It’s rare.
My goal, after this book comes out and gets launched and everybody reads it, is that 18 months from now, if I say, “Who’s great at customer service?” you won’t be able to come up with an answer, because so many people will be great at it that it’s no longer exceptional. It’s no longer worthy of remark. That’s what I hope happens.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. Well, one thing remains certain — if you don’t care about your customers, you’re in trouble. I don’t think there’s any doubt on that.
Jay Baer: Well, now that it’s in public, even more so, right?
Brian Clark: Absolutely.
All right, Everyone, I hope you got something out of this. I certainly did. Go buy the book, Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer. We will of course link that up for you to Amazon. Or no, actually, do you want them to go to the book site?
Jay Baer: Amazon is fine. At this point, if you want to buy a bunch of books for your team, which would be great, we’re selling larger packages and hugyourhaters.com. If you want one, two, three books, which would be fantastic, Amazon or something like that would be awesome. There’s an Audible book as well, read by yours truly.
Brian Clark: Excellent. All right, Everyone, we will be back soon with another episode. But in the meantime, keep going.