[TL:DR;] Hug Your Haters: How to embrace complaints and keep your customers by Jay Baer

In this post I will summarize the lessons learnt from reading Jay Baer’s book “Hug Your Haters”. I found this book very helpful, easily to digest and most importantly, actionable. There were quite a few tips I now want to implement in my own customer service routine.

So, what did I learn?

Answering complaints leads to advocacy

Answering complaints increases customer advocacy across all customer service channels. Unsurprisingly, not answering complaints decreases customer advocacy across all customer service channels.

This is pretty straightforward and I couldn’t say I was shocked to hear this. But what is surprising is a 56% decline in advocacy if an email is left unanswered. There’s not really any reason to leave emails unanswered these days, especially if you have tools such as Zendesk to help aggregate your channels (you can check my other blog post on Zendesk here).

The advocacy you gain from just responding to people is priceless in the long run. At Arrowhead we try to give everyone the time and respect that they deserve, even when their comments are sometimes dubious. If someone has taken the time to sit down and email you, they just want their voice to be heard. Responding is the first step to winning your players over.

Fortunately we had already established answering all our players a long time ago, and I can confirm that this strategy has paid off for us. In the very beginning some of our biggest critics were extremely vocal. We addressed their questions, criticisms and doubts about our game in an open and transparent manner, and now we are proud to have them as our ambassadors. They are what we consider our power users in the forums – those people who are the first to stick up for the brand if there are problems, and first to disseminate important information within the community.

Without these key advocates, we would have had to use more resources on community management, support and marketing. For us it was well worth the time investment of answering their very first emails and forum posts. If there’s only one thing you can do, make sure it is to answer everyone, in every channel you have.

If you start providing Customer Support you can’t stop

Cherry picking who to answer is never a good idea and often silently costs in the end. Players are acutely aware of favouritism when a brand chooses to answer some, but not all, questions thrown at them. It makes the brand feel very disingenuous and perceived credibility and trust may be broken due to this.

Instead, all questions should be tackled, no matter how hard of a subject. Yes, you are likely to get tough questions. At Arrowhead we found that sometimes when a particularly delicate, important or big issue has cropped up, it is good to get “higher ups” in the studio involved to deliver the message. The message is always more powerful when answered sincerely and honestly by the CEO rather than the regular support personnel during tense times. It also shows that the “higher ups” are heavily involved in caring for the community and actually give a damn about issues that affect their players.

Reply publicly, not just in private

Most people who write at brands online on social media do not expect an answer. By answering publicly, you surprise these people. This acknowledgement, however small, increases brand advocacy because you give them something they weren’t expecting.

It also serves another purpose to reply publicly: your information is more visible and has the potential to reach a larger amount of people (not to mention your answers being cached in search engines).

Think of it like this, if this one person has this question/complaint, others surely do too. Answering publicly reduces the need for players to contact you about the same issues repeatedly – they can search and find what they are looking for without you needing to do more.

Not replying also implies that you do not care about your customers or audience. Even if you personally read the message, it looks like you are ignoring them.Acknowledging or answering the message – even if you can’t do anything – goes a long way and this display of empathy wins you loyalty.

Reward positive comments…and the negative ones

You don’t want to get into the trap of just rewarding the people who complain. It will promote a negative culture associated with your brand. Make sure to reward the positive comments too, even if it is even just a reply or well wishes. You can also utilize hashtags to increase both visibility and fun in your replies, such as #HappyToHelp.

It is also worth giving out some form of compensation to the disgruntled customers. Their happiness and consequent loyalty to your brand outweighs the cost of the monetary cost associated with the compensation. Not everyone can or should offer free products to the customer, but the financial outcomes of doing so are often far more attractive than you may imagine. I sometime work offscript and give out a code to certain players who have (through no fault of their own) found themselves in bad situations but who have remained civil and calm when actually trying to help me figure out and solve their problems.

In any case, always try to appeal to the better side of the customer and use their knowledge of your products. For example, you can say something like “You are a discerning patron. You see things others do not. Anytime you visit one of our locations, email us your observations and we can send you a short survey”. By doing this you can receive crucial and honest customer feedback, while funnelling their complaints in your desired channels AND making them feel special.

When complaints are handled satisfactory, customers become more loyal than those who did not have a complaint in the first place. This is where your player retention comes in. Most businesses don’t care about retention – not true for games. We are dependant on retention and word of mouth. Losing customers costs you in the long run. Think of DLC.

Customer service is the new marketing

In his book, Baer says that the best companies don’t look at customer service as an expense, they look at it as an extension of their marketing budget. This is a smart way of thinking, as a happy customer nearly always returns to make repeat purchases or recommends your products to friends and family – in the long run increasing your sales. I’ve seen this happen with our game, where players who are very happy often are our biggest promoters, even when they have encountered bugs in the past.

Even during game launch, you can turn crises and bad news good in some way. If you manage to do this successfully you will increase player advocacy, gather important insights and feeback, and more importantly, stand out from competitors who repeatedly fail or do it wrong. For example, the recent scandal with lootboxes in EA games. EA took a lot of criticism for that, and it took them a lot of time to make official statements and change the effected gameplay. If you are able to differentiate yourself from companies like EA, and really listen to your players (which means saying sorry when you fuck up and make mistakes), you will be seen more favourable and gain a better reputation in the industry.

The last key point here to remember is if you aren’t providing a suitable forum for your customers to give their feedback, such as specific forums, the audience is more likely to use your marketing channels to give feedback, which could result in an influx of negativity. This can potentially be very off-putting to other people and result in a loss of sales. Always make sure you have appropriate channels set up for your customers to voice themselves in.

Onstage and offstage complainers

There are two types of people: onstage complainers and offstage complainers.

Offstage complainers want a response and want to complain in private. Normally their criticisms are more thought through, as more effort goes into contacting a company privately. It is after all time consuming for the customer too. Onstage complainers complain in public and do not always expect a response.

In fact, Baer states that there is higher expectancy from customers to receive a reply via telephone and email (offstage), where as only 42% expect a response on social media and 47% on forums (onstage). Of those who do complain, only 40% of customers receive a social media reply and 49% receive a forum reply. He argues that these figures should be a lot higher as the greatest advocacy comes from those who do not expect a response.

Advice for dealing with offstage haters: be human, contact them and maintain contact via one channel (it’s frustrating for them to be told to call this number when they’ve email that address), unify data, resolve the issue, aim for speed.

For onstage haters: find mentions, empathy, answer publicly, reply only twice to disengage in trollish or flaming behaviour, and don’t be scared to switch channels to something more private to escape the audience.

In Summary: What’s stopping you?

The top reasons why companies can’t answer complaints:

  • too many channels
  • too much feedback
  • feels too personal
  • fear of being scammed
  • no ingrained or developed service culture in the company

Baer predicts that future trends will be:

  • proactive support
  • customer self service like knowledge centres
  • community peer to peer, such as support forums
  • mobile messaging

The guidelines you should be trying to meet for social media service are:

  • Proactive support, making support channels’ existence widely known
  • Separate help accounts can be useful, but people mainly follow the companies’ main account
  • Aggressive engagement exceeding customer demands
  • Ask yourself, is it worth answering people personally, or using a canned response? Usually worth it to be personal even if it is more time consuming
  • Interacting rather than reacting as a means to anticipate what a customer wants and needs before they tell you
  • When something is wrong be human, say you’re sorry and empathsize
  • Recognising the viral power and leveraging reach to influence the market
  • Allow your brand to have a personality and allow yourself a voice
  • Connect with customers on a deeply personal and emotional level to build relationships, which you can do by humanizing your story
  • Never answer more than twice (to negative people). Redirect them to private channels where appropriate.
  • Not responding IS a response – it implies you don’t care. Basically answer every complaint, in every channel, every time.

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