Praise is the most overrated thing in business today, says marketing and customer service guru Jay Baer.
"It makes you feel good but doesn't teach you anything," he says. "What actually teaches your business lessons are complaints, negative feedback and criticism. That's what makes your business better, and that information has to come from your customers."
Hug your haters, in other words. That's also the title of Baer's latest best-seller: Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers.
Baer's message is that the digital transformation underway of both business and the customer experience is forcing companies large and small to change their game plans for customer service, especially in the way they co-create, view and handle complaints.
Most important: Don't ignore complaints
Although most people likely find it difficult to talk with aggrieved customers, ignoring their complaints is costly for your business, and not just because of bad word of mouth.
Bad customer service – in this case, not acting on complaints – leads to what Baer calls a measurable "customer service deficiency" that your competition can exploit.
"You’ve got to go out of your way to get more complaints from your customers," Baer says. "Only 5 percent of unhappy customers ever complain in a way that you can find it."
We already know that unhappy customers are much more likely than happy customers to talk about their experiences with others. These days, though, customers can broadcast their complaints directly to hundreds or thousands of people instead of just hollering at the store manager or filling out a comment card or survey.
Customer service is a spectator sport today, and people – "haters" and onlookers alike – are watching and judging your business on its responses.
On top of all that, people are filing their complaints in real time. Instead of jumping on the home computer, they're picking up their phones and tapping their Yelp or Facebook apps.
Seek out and learn from negative feedback
Just as ignoring complaints can hurt your business, hugging your haters by responding to and trying to fix problems can become your competitive advantage because few other companies are doing customer service well, Baer says.
Although the increasing digital transformation under way gives unhappy customers a public platform to air their grievances, it also has given your business more tools to work with your critics and complainers.
Smart business applications and emerging data products co-created by companies like GoodData enable digital businesses to stimulate new and more frequent customer feedback, as well as detect and alert organizations about complaints in real-time. This helps customer-facing teams acknowledge and respond quickly to negative feedback and constantly learn from these interactions.
"You’ve got to go out of your way to get more complaints from your customers," Baer says. "One of the keys is to automate all your customer touchpoints and say, 'How can we nudge those customers to provide more feedback?'"
That can come from encouraging in-person comments to workers, making it easy to find your company on social media like Facebook and Twitter and contacting you via messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat or even through video content.
"How can we, at every turn, encourage our customers who are anything less than 100 percent satisfied to let us know?" Baer says. "Each of those individual moments become a data stream that, when you analyze it, improves your business in ways that will shock you."