This review was first published in the Feb. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By Jay Baer
Portfolio / Penguin
You’re patrolling the mean streets of Hamilton on your Sobi bicycle when you spot a delivery van parked in a bike lane.
Do you ask the driver to move the van?
Do you call the delivery company and ask them to play by the rules of the road and quit blocking bike lanes?
Or do you whip out your smartphone, snap a photo and fire off a tweet?
What you do depends on what you want. Do you want action or an audience?
We complain in one of two ways, says Jay Baer, author of Hug Your Haters and president of an online customer service and digital marketing firm.
If we want action on a problem, we’re offstage haters. We prefer to talk privately one-to-one to resolve an issue. We pick up the phone. We send an email. We meet in person.
If we want an audience, we’re onstage haters who are quick to publicly shame on social media.
“In the same way that bumper stickers are the most shallow form of political expression, social media grousing is the thinnest form of customer complaints,” says Baer. “Though onstage haters may not expect a reply, they definitely desire an audience,” says Baer. “That’s why they raise the stakes and take grievances to a public forum.”
If you’re the owner of the delivery company that’s come under fire, what should you do?
Ignore the tweet?
Punch back by calling the tweeter a twit for not talking with you directly?
Or publicly apologize?
“Answer every complaint, in every channel, every time,” advises Baer. “Admittedly, it’s not easy to hug your haters. It takes cultural alignment, resource allocation, speed, a thick skin and an unwavering belief that complaints are an opportunity.”
The move from offstage to onstage hating is in full swing thanks to the ubiquitousness of smartphones, social media and review sites like Yelp.
Customer service has become a spectator sport. When an onstage hater fires a broadside at your business, we’re watching from the sidelines to see if, and how, you’ll respond.
Display empathy even in the face of manufactured outrage that you believe is out of proportion to the crime, says Baer. “A short ‘I’m sorry’ goes a long, long way,” says Baer.
Answer your onstage haters publicly because the opinions of onlookers are the real prize.
Don’t aim to have the final word at all costs. Respond no more than twice to an onstage hater and then move on. “Violating the Rule of Reply Only Twice can drag you down into a vortex of negativity and hostility, and it’s also a waste of your time,” says Baer.
And offer to resolve the issue offline with your onstage hater. It’s tough to solve a complex problem with 140 characters on Twitter. You also don’t want anyone sharing personal information in full view of your digital onlookers.
So if you’re a business owner who’s not on social media, start paying attention to what’s being said about you and be ready to respond. Hug, and never mug, your onstage haters. They’re playing to the crowd and so should you.
How you respond will differentiate your company from all the businesses that stay silent or have no clue what’s being said online, says Baer (who offers a money back guarantee if you don’t like his book).
“In today’s world, meaningful differences between businesses are rarely rooted in price or product, but instead in customer experience. Hugging your haters gives you the chance to turn lemons into lemonade, morph bad news into good and keep the customers you already have. So few companies hug their haters that those that make the commitment are almost automatically differentiated and noteworthy when compared to their competitors.”