Why every business should be hugging their haters – Interview with Jay Baer of Convince & Convert


Today’s interview is with Jay Baer, best-selling author, speaker and President of Convince & Convert, a strategy consulting firm that helps companies through the smart intersection of technology and customer service. Jay joins me today to talk about his new book: Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers, why complaints are a key way to help you keep your customers, the different type of complainers that exist and how to deal with them.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Predictive analytics and solving the problem of silent customer churn – Interview with Anil Kaul of Absolutdata – and is number 170 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to their customers.

Highlights of my interview with Jay:

  • Jay has been involved with digital marketing and online customer experience since 1993.
  • Jay has just published a new book: Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers
  • This is Jay’s fifth book but is his first in the customer care arena and he wrote it as more and more of their clients in their consulting business were finding that marketing and customer care were colliding and that customer care is becoming the new marketing.
  • The book is based on proprietary research and more than 70 exclusive interviews looking into who complains, why they complain and how people complain.
  • Even though many people and businesses know that complaints can present an opportunity few firms actually ‘embrace’ complaints and really get to grips with them.
  • One of the reasons is how we feel about complaints and, more interestingly, how our brain chemistry changes when faced with a complaint – it goes into defensive mode (Check out: The longest lasting emotions in customer experience).
  • Whilst, praise may feel good it teaches you nothing.
  • Jay categorises complainers into two different types: On-stage haters and Off-stage haters.
  • Off-stage haters tend to be slightly older, slightly less tech savvy and tend to complain in private (on the phone, via email etc)
  • On-stage haters tend to be slightly younger, slightly more tech savvy and tend to complain in public (mostly via social media, review websites, discussion forums etc)
  • The demographic differences are not massive. The biggest difference between the two groups is in expectations.
  • Off-stage haters anticipate and expect a response 90% of the time. Meanwhile, only 47% of on-stage haters expect businesses to get back to them if they complain in public due to their past experience.
  • So, when you do respond to on-stage haters it can ‘blow their mind and win their heart’ as they don’t expect a company to respond. This, in turn, can have a material impact on customer advocacy.
  • A lack of response to a public complaint is a response. It says ‘we don’t care about you enough’ to respond.
  • Jay talks about how many companies have formal, operational strategies in place to ignore reviews on Third-party, review websites.
  • Customer service is a spectator sport in those environments.
  • If companies don’t respond to complaints made on third-party sites then as they accumulate they become more and more true.
  • 95% of your customers will never complain in public or to you privately. However, it’s the 5% that do that are of incredible value to a business.
  • Therefore, the advice in the book is to answer every complaint in every channel every time.
  • Companies should go, answer and address complaints in the channels that customers choose. Not, just in the channels that they as a business choose.
  • Many would complain that they don’t have the skills or resources to take on one or two more channels. Jay disagrees with that and says that firms do have the resources but they are choosing not to deploy them in this way.
  • One of Jay’s favourite examples from the book comes from Erin Pepper who is the Director of Customer Experience at Le Pain Quotidien. When she started the role around 3 years ago she counter-intuitively stated her goal was ‘to triple the number of complaints that we get’. She then proceeded to put in all sorts of new policies to gather feedback at a number of different touchpoints.
  • However, the really neat thing that she did was that after replying to all of the complaints on public review sites she then would message (privately) a number of the complainers and offer to send them a couple of gift vouchers every month if they would visit a different Le Pain Quotidien restaurant and then fill in a detailed survey on that location. She now has a team of 150 mystery shoppers providing feedback every month across a range of issues, stores and geographies. She turned hate into help.
  • Jay tells a second story and this time it is about KLM and how their complaint answering programme started. Their new strategy started in the midst of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud eruption that happened in 2010. Knowing that if they went down the route of ‘answer every complaint in every channel every time’ they couldn’t go back so they utilised their grounded staff and set about answering every customer question. They have continued on since then and now answer more than 60,000 queries on social media alone every week, 24 hours a day and in fourteen different languages. As a result of this service they ‘accidentally’ sold an additional $25million worth of flights last year and they don’t even have a revenue goal but those sales have made their support dept revenue neutral.
  • According to Forrester, 80% of businesses say that they deliver superior customer service yet only 8% of their customers agree.
  • Rule of reply only twice: Only ever reply twice to a public complaint. After that offer to move the conversation to a private channel (email, phone etc etc). If they keep complaining then just walk away as you have demonstrated responsiveness and attentiveness to them and to the onlooking audience. However, if after two replies someone does not want to resolve the problem and take it offline then walk away.
  • Every print copy of the book includes a poster called The Hatrix detailing key information on different types of ‘haters’, how to respond to them and what happens if you don’t.
  • Grab a copy of the book here: Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers and if you buy enough copies then Jay will send you some Hug Your Haters limited edition socks!

About Jay (taken from his LinkedIn bio)

Jay BaerJay Baer is a renowned business strategist, inspirational keynote speaker and the New York Times bestselling author of five books who travels the world helping businesspeople gain and keep more customers.

Jay has advised with more than 700 companies since 1994, including Caterpillar, Nike, Allstate, and 32 of the FORTUNE 500.

He is the founder of Convince & Convert ~ just added to Inc.’s 2015 5000 list ~ a strategy consulting firm that helps prominent companies through the smart intersection of technology and customer service.

His Convince & Convert Media division owns the world’s #1 content marketing blog, multiple podcasts – including Social Pros, Content Pros, InfluencePros, Business of Story, and Marketing Marvels – and many other education resources for business owners and executives.

The creator of five multi-million dollar companies, is also an active venture capitalist and technology advisor, as well as an avid tequila collector.

Check out his new book at the Hug Your Haters website, the Convince and Convert series of podcasts, say Hi on Twitter @jaybaer and connect with him on LinkedIn here.


Photo Credit: caratello via Compfight cc


  1. I love the Le Pain Quotidien story about attempting to triple their levels of complaints.

    It is a very similar tack to hospitals trying to increase the number of reported accidents amongst their staff.

    It is only if you know what is going wrong that you can do something about it.


  1. […] interview follows on from my recent interview – Why every business should be hugging their haters – Interview with Jay Baer of Convince & Conv… – and is number 171 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing […]

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