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Review: Jay Baer’s Hug Your Haters – How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers

hug-your-hatersThis review was first published in the Feb. 29 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers

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.”

Review: Superbosses – How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent by Sydney Finkelstein

This review first ran in the Feb. 16 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.superbosses

Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent

By Sydney Finkelstein

Portfolio / Penguin


Losing your superstars at work hurts.

But not having any talent worth poaching should be a far bigger worry, says Sydney Finkelstein, director of the Tuck School of Business Center for Leadership at Dartmouth College and author of Superbosses.

“Are you better off having an organization full of okay performers who stay for decades, or a company populated by the world’s best talent who expressly came to work for you, for a time, because of your track record as a talent magnet; and who, upon leaving, stay in the network, serving as ambassadors for you and your brand? The choice is clear.”

If your organization’s a popular farm team for head hunters, there’s likely a superboss on your payroll. This is a very good thing.

“Superbosses are the great coaches, the igniters of talent and the teachers of leadership,” says Finkelstein, who spent a decade researching these exceptional talent spawners. “Superbosses have mastered something most bosses miss – a path to extraordinary success founded on making other people successful.”

According to Finkelstein, there are three types of superbosses.

Iconoclasts are the artists of superbosses. They don’t set out to teach or inspire others, says Finkelstein. “What they care about is their work, their passion. Iconoclasts are so wholly fixated on their vision that they are able to teach in an intuitive, organic way as a natural outgrowth of their passion and in service to it.”

Ultra-competitive glorious bastards surround themselves with the people and teams who will give them the best shot at winning.  “They may be egoists, they may want fame and glory for themselves, but they perceive the success of those around them as the pathway to that glory.”

Benevolent nurturers are activist bosses who are keenly interested in developing their people. “They are consistently present to guide and teach their protégées, and they actively engage with employees to help them reach great heights.”

All three types of superbosses share the same character traits, says Finkelstein. They’re extremely confident and fearless when it comes to furthering their agendas and ideas.

They’re competitive and imaginative. “They think intensely about what could be and are fired up to turn their dreams into reality.”

Superbosses stay true to themselves, their beliefs and values.

And superbosses are authentic. “So many bosses cultivate an image for the benefit of their reports. They keep a tight lid on their personalities, saving their true selves for when they’re away from the office. Not superbosses. They let their personalities hang out.”

If you’re a freshly minted grad just heading out into the work world, seek out a superboss and strap yourself in. She’ll push you harder than anyone else and demand nothing less than your best. She’ll accelerate your career and you’ll forever be part of a tight knit band of brothers and sisters.

If you’re a manager, borrow from the superboss playbook. Get better at spotting and developing talent. And when your superstars inevitably move on to bigger and better things, don’t sulk. Congratulate them and stay in touch.

“Developing world-class talent is on everyone’s agenda as it is the only way to survive and prosper,” says Finkelstein. “The key to organizational vitality is, after all, the ability to constantly regenerate talent. Yet study after study reveals that managers have the most trouble helping others to thrive. It’s time to think about this differently and to start doing some things differently.”

Finkelstein’s book is a good place to start.

Review: Steal the Show From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches by Michael Port

steal the showThis review first ran in the Feb. 1 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Steal the Show: How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation For All The Performances in Your Life

By Michael Port

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Here are 11 surefire ways to lose your audience and blow your next presentation.

With a grimace and in a monotone, tell us how happy you are to be here.

Lead off with a well-worn joke or tell us, in exacting detail, about the hilarious and adorable thing that happened this morning with your kids, spouse or the family dog.

Skip the cheap laughs and instead start by quoting Webster’s. Put the definition up on the screen. Pull out all the stops by waving around an actual dictionary .

Confess that you’re a lousy public speaker and apologize for being forced to talk about a topic that’s beyond boring.

Tell us you’re dead tired because you spent last night slapping together this presentation.

Confuse PowerPoint slides with cue cards. Turn your back on us to read your slides bullet by bullet, word for word.

Apologize in advance for showing us charts and graphs that we can’t read and won’t understand.

Lose your cool when your slides skip ahead, your mic cuts out, the video doesn’t play or the projector dies. Rip into tech support and the intern who put together your presentation.

Instead of focusing on one big idea, tell us everything so we remember nothing and leave your talk having no clue what you want from us.

Blow through your allotted time to speak because you’re the most important person on the agenda and in the room.

Be genuinely surprised when your PowerPoint slides end. Close with “I guess that’s it, thanks for coming out and have yourself a great day.”

Along with losing your audience, your sub-par presentation skills can get you permanently cast in a supporting rather than starring role in your organization.

Great presenters avoid these pitfalls by mastering their material. They treat their talk like a performance. They don’t wing it and hope for the best.  Instead, they log serious hours in rehearsal.

How many hours? Professional speaker and consultant Michael Port once linvested 400 hours over five months preparing for a single keynote.

“When you prepare for a pitch, meeting, speech or negotiation, the goal is to know your material so well that you are free to be in the moment,” says Port, author of Steal the Show. “It’s hard to allow yourself to improvise if you don’t know your material right down to the core. If you aren’t well-rehearsed, you’ve stacked the odds against giving the performance you want to give.”

How you prepare is as important as how much time you spend practicing. Port recommends a seven-step rehearsal process that draws on his experience as a professional actor.

  • Start with a table read to hear how your script sounds and to find the rhythm and feel of your talk.
  • Map your content. Mark up the words you’ll emphasize. Know when to pause, speed up and slow down your presentation.
  • Block your talk so you know how, when and where to move around the stage or room. You don’t want to wander, pace back and forth or stay stuck behind the lectern.
  • Improvise and rework the parts of your presentation that fall flat. Look for memorable ways to interact with your audience.
  • Hold an invited rehearsal with a colleague who can offer constructive feedback.
  • Hold an open rehearsal to preview your talk with a larger group who are in your target audience.
  • And finally, do a dress and tech rehearsal. Wear the clothes and shoes you’re presenting in and build a good rapport with the audiovisual crew.

“If you think you’re going to rise to the occasion, don’t bet on it,” says Port. “If you think you’re going to somehow be inspired to come up with the right material during the speech without hours of preparation, think again.”

Practice won’t make you perfect but it will make you a far better presenter who avoids all-too-common pitfalls.  Port helps you think like a performer and shows what it takes to own the room and steal the show.  So quit procrastinating and start rehearsing.