In the quest to maximize customer experience, you eventually have to come to terms with a hard reality— no matter how hard you try, you’ll always have some dissatisfied customers. Complaints are inevitable, but some organizations are finding a way to respond in such a way that they can turn haters into loyalists.
Jay Baer is the president of Convince & Convert, an online customer service and digital marketing consultancy and media company. To gain insight into the science of complaints, Baer recently partnered with Edison Research to conduct a massive study of what complainers want and how organizations can leverage complaints to improve services and create a loyal following. The findings are presented in his newest book, "Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers."
I recently had the chance to talk to Baer about his research, and he shared three key insights that he believes can completely change the way that leaders think about customer experience.
When the majority of your customers are providing positive or neutral feedback, it can be tempting to view complaints as outliers unworthy of analysis. But Baer offers a different perspective. He says that like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, each complaint has the potential to serve as an early warning system to alert your organization to emerging problems.
He says, “Out of every 100 unhappy customers, only 5 will take the time to complain in a form or fashion the business can find. That means that the overwhelming percentage of your dissatisfied customers just disappear and you’ll never know why.”
“In business and life, praise is massively overrated,” says Baer, “Praise feels good, but teaches us little. What makes you a better business (and a better person, frankly) is negative feedback and criticism. Customers that take the time to complain are doing you a massive favor by pointing out what you can do better. That’s why we need to run toward criticism in business instead of shying away from it, which is the current norm.
“Negative feedback is the petri dish for improvement. If you want to get better, your customers will tell you how. You just need to listen harder, analyze their feedback, and address it operationally,” he suggests. “But in most companies, the goal is to get fewer complaints. The smartest companies want more complaints because then they know what to fix.”
He adds, “Your business improves in four ways when you hug your haters: you turn bad news good; you create customer advocacy; you gather insights and intelligence; and you differentiate from your competition.”
In Hug Your Haters, Baer focuses heavily on understanding how technology is both changing the nature of complaints and also changing how organizations must respond. He says, “The near-universal adoption of smartphones and social media has fundamentally altered the science of complaints. Critics can now express their displeasure faster and more publicly than ever before. The bad news is that if you’re mediocre at customer service, everyone can see that, even potential customers. The good news is that if you’re good at customer service, that’s evident as well.”
While technology has changed the nature of complaints in some challenging ways, it also provides organizations with more efficient ways of interacting with their customers. “The other good news is that - at scale – it is much less expensive to interact with customers in social media vs. email or telephone. But the big change is still unfurling— the move to automated and semi-automated bots for routine customer service functions. Banks, airlines, universities, and many more organizations are moving (and more will follow) to robots via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and others to handle an increasing share of customer interactions. Combine that with the rise of customer communities where the customers themselves do much of the customer service and you are truly looking at an operations revolution inside customer service and customer experience. It’s exciting!”
Baer’s research shows that nothing is more important to customers than having their complaints resolved quickly. In his book, he shares, “Getting the issue solved in a single transaction is more important to a customer than accuracy or politeness.” He found that individuals who have their problems resolved in a single contact are twice as likely to remain customers and four times more likely to speak highly of your company.
One challenge associated with trying to resolve complaints quickly is ensuring that the person or system handling the complaint has access to all necessary information. Many companies have separate teams and databases for various customer service channels, which results in fragmented, siloed data.
Baer says that companies clinging to legacy systems will find it especially challenging to resolve complaints in a single transaction. He recommends that leaders consider moving towards cloud-based platforms that enable your customer service team to move between channels without hassle so that customers can resolve their problem effortlessly by their preferred channel.