Powered to Protest

Tim Vanderpool

The rise of social media has armed consumers with new powers to complain — and prompted companies to re-examine how they respond to grievances aired publicly on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter. Companies that ignore those gripes, or just get defensive, do so at their own peril. 

So says Jay Baer ’92, social media wizard, New York Times’ best-selling author, and founder of the strategy consulting firm Convince & Convert. His latest book, “Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers,” offers critical advice for companies hoping to boost their images online. 

If there is one takeaway message about social media complaints, it is this: “You should always respond,” says Baer. “You should respond to every customer in every channel every time.”

To make the point, he starts with this reality check: Although 80 percent of companies claim to offer top-shelf customer service, a full 92 percent of their customers disagree. Baer argues that companies can flip that paradox on its head simply by responding rapidly, empathetically and consistently. He even suggests they redirect resources from other areas — such as marketing — to get the job done.  

Business as usual it is not. “For years, customer service has been seen as a necessary evil,” he says. “But now that is being disrupted, in exactly same way that marketing is being disrupted. In social media, customer service has become a spectator sport, and that changes the dynamics of the game quite a bit.”  

“The people who complain — the haters, if you will — are not your problem,” says Baer. “Ignoring them is your problem. No response is a response that says ‘We don’t care about you.’ And because it’s in public, tens of thousands of people can see you ignoring that person.” The answer, he reiterates, “is to answer every question in every channel every time.” 

This approach also offers huge opportunity, such as when smart companies use social media for advocacy. “In that case, you’re trying to take your existing customers and turn them into volunteer marketers,” Baer says. “How can you interact with your customers in a way that makes them want to tell your story — makes them want to tell their friends, makes them want to spread your message around social media in what becomes an amplifier effect?”

Let’s say a complaint appears on your firm’s Facebook page, and a satisfied customer defends you. That’s the kind of advertising money simply can’t buy. “When customers come to your defense even before you have a chance to defend yourself,” says Baer, “that is of course more persuasive. There’s a strategy around collecting customers who love your business; customer service and customer advocacy is where social media is most effective.”  

At that point, you are enjoying a conversation with your customer rather than trying to sell to them — the ideal customer interaction.

“The best social media for commerce,” Baer says, “doesn’t feel like commerce at all.” 

Hear from Jay live through the Alumni Association Career Lab

Cats in the Corner Office: Jay Baer | arizonaalumni.com/corner-office

Cats in the Corner Office is the Alumni Association’s online speaker series featuring conversations with highly accomplished Wildcats. 

Join us July 11, 2016, for a live-streamed interview with Jay Baer, who will discuss stories from his career and insights on marketing. Bring your questions! 

Alumni Career Webinar: Hate Ain’t Equal — The ROI of Customer Complaints | arizonaalumni.com/online-career-workshops

Jay will reveal brand-new, proprietary research into why and where your customers complain and why the rise of customer complaints is actually an enormous opportunity. Learn to embrace complaints, put haters to work for you and turn bad news into good!