Customer service tips from Jay Baer’s “Hug Your Haters”

We live in the era of the troll, the age of the perpetually aggrieved, and when we can’t scroll down our own Facebook feed without being called names by distant relatives, it’s little wonder that customer service professionals sometimes feel like coming to work in flak jackets.

Now, of course, customers have more channels than ever for voicing complaints. How can businesses cover all their bases? And how should they handle their fiercest critics? Jay Baer’s Hug Your Haters is devoted to finding these answers, drawing on fresh research from a partnership with Edison Research.

Baer is a charismatic fixture on the marketing and social media conference circuit; his last book, Youtility, urged marketers (and business leaders in general) to think about ways to help customers rather than hype their own products.

The book is an easy recommendation for anyone looking to reinvigorate a customer service department or re-think stagnant corporate ideas about customer service. For progressive customer service leaders, a lot of Hug Your Haters will seem a bit obvious; if that’s you, then you get the satisfaction of realizing you are ahead of the curve.

Here are a few of the points that Baer digs into.


Even when only a few are complaining, many are watching

When you answer complaints publicly on social media, it will have an effect on more than just the single “hater.” Many old-fashioned customer service leaders have the urge to take everything offline, but Baer makes the case for actually resolving the problems in these public channels and forums, rather than forcing customers to their phones or into DMs, etc.


Squeaky wheels get the grease, but squeaky wheels usually care 

Let’s say your company makes potato chips, and you have a customer who lets you hear about it every time you change a font on your website, let alone make a change to the actual flavor profile of your chips. Sometimes this may result in a threat of lost business (“if you don’t revert to Helvetica, I will be taking my BBQ chip business elsewhere!”). But the threat of lost business is also an opportunity to retain business; customers who truly have no investment in your brand won’t bother to leave a note when they pack their bags.

And of course customer complaints can often be a first line of defense in finding and fixing problems before you may have otherwise.


Commit to social media for customer service

Baer makes a strong case for treating social media as a customer service channel, which means actually integrating the two worlds, and solving problems (when possible) within the channel they were received, rather than using Facebook and Twitter as tools for directing people to your inbox or your 800 number for actual customer service.


Don’t bury bad reviews

I used to work for a local entertainment website, and occasionally a local business owner would contact us and proceed to freak out about the appearance of a one-star review. In some cases, these owners wanted to make things right with the aggravated reviewer, but they also wanted the whole one-star affair scrubbed from the internet. Baer presents evidence that customers actually mistrust companies/products that don’t have any bad reviews. You don’t want to be buried in one-star ratings, of course, but remember that it’s near-impossible to please everyone all the time. Even our national parks get one-star reviews.


You can often turn around even the angriest-seeming customer

Angry online venting is often followed by a period of remorse; many customers are no different in this regard, and if their all-caps screed against your company due to a delayed shipment is met with politeness and understanding, they will often (though certainly not always) sing a different tune. And, again, when these conversations take place publicly, other customers are quietly taking note.


But sometimes if it walks like a troll and talks like a troll…

I’m being honest, not hating, when I say that there is a certain naïveté behind the whole idea of Hug Your Haters. Not every bully secretly wants a friend, and not every angry online commentator is just a friendly response away from becoming a brand ambassador. Sometimes the hater just wants to waste your time and embarrass you, and no amount of cheerful responses and gift certificates will change that. Fortunately, Baer does (briefly) acknowledge this reality, too, and gives some simple and practical guidelines for doing your best but not continually taking the bait.

Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.