8 Questions with Jay Baer

Customer complaints are rampant these days, or so they seem at least. The reality is that I do not believe customers are complaining about businesses anymore than they used to, but the difference now is that every individual has the ability to broadcast their displeasure via all of the social and mobile capabilities of technology today. 

A friend of mine sent me a book that I immediately gravitated to. It's called "Hug You Haters" and it was written by best-selling author Jay Baer. Jay is a digital customer service expert and as president of Convince & Convert, an online customer service and digital marketing consultancy, he knows exactly how to embrace the voice that consumers have today.

His book centers on how to use customer complaints as an advantage and serves as an essential success tool. I sat down with Jay to discuss it recently and this was our conversation.


Brandon Steiner: Who did you write this book for and why did you write this book?

Jay Baer: This book is for anyone who has customers.

No business is perfect 100% of the time, and eventually some customers are going to have feedback. But we’re not handling that feedback very well these days.

I conducted a massive research project when writing this book, and found that 1/3 of all customer complaints are NEVER answered. The research proves that answering complaints increases customer advocacy. Not answering a complaint decreases customer advocacy. We treat complainers like our least important customers, but they are actually our most important customers.

Instead of ignoring customer complaints, we should embrace them and answer every complaint, in every channel, every time.

80% of businesses say they deliver exceptional customer service. 8% of their customers agree. Most companies are using a 1995 playbook to handle 2016 customer service problems. This has to change, and Hug Your Haters is the kick in the pants you need to make that change.

BS: How has social media transformed the customer service industry? What was the watershed moment for you where you realized it was going to have a tremendous impact?

Social media (and mobile) have changed nearly everything about customer service. Customer service is being disrupted in the very same ways that marketing has been disrupted. We have to recognize that for generations business had it pretty easy, as nearly all customer interactions played out in private. Now, with social media, it’s changed dramatically. More and more customer interactions are public, and in those circumstances customer service becomes a spectator sport.

This is why I make the case in the book that customer service is the new marketing: a way to differentiate your business from your competition. 

BS: Explain “The Hatrix.”

 The Hatrix is a poster included in every copy of the book. It spotlights the key research and the two different types of haters: offstage (people who complain via phone and email) and onstage (people who complain via social media, review sites like Yelp, etc.). 

The biggest difference between the onstage and offstage haters is what they expect when they complain. Offstage (phone and email) complainers expect an answer. Onstage (social media and beyond) complainers often want an audience. Only 47% of onstage haters even expect business to reply to their complaint - partially because very few companies are doing so today. But this is a HUGE opportunity. 

Answering customer complaints in social media, review sites, and discussion boards/forums creates a major bump in customer advocacy and loyalty. It blows their minds and wins their hearts. 

BS: What are your best customer service stories- 1) as a consumer and 2) as a marketer?

Not long ago my wife and I were flying to Australia. As the Delta gate agent scanned my boarding pass, she could tell on her tiny display screen my frequent flier status, and thanked me for my loyalty. Then, she scanned my wife’s boarding pass, and noticed she is not a frequent flier. Unprompted, the gate agent said, “Mrs. Baer I just want to thank you for what you do for your family, and I want to thank you for all that you to do allow Mr. Baer to spend so much time flying with us at Delta.”

Wow. Talk about an unscripted moment that has real emotional resonance! 

One of my favorite stories from Hug Your Haters is from Le Pain Quotidian, a chain of bakeries and cafes. Based in Belgium, LPQ has many locations in the USA as well. When they get negative reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, or similar sites, they answer back in public (per the Hug Your Haters formula). But what they do next is truly extraordinary. 

After two hours or so they send the complaining customer a private message, and say something like, “We’ve been thinking. And you are a particularly perceptive customers. You see things other customers do not see. You have a gift for observation. We’d like to send you two gift cards per month. And with each of these gifts cards we’d like you to visit a different LPQ location. And upon the conclusion of your visit, please click this link and fill out this very detailed survey of your experiences. Because your feedback can help make us great. Will you do that for us?” 

And it totally works! They now have more than 200 of these secret shoppers working for the business, and all of them started off as a complaint. They successfully turned hate into help, and that’s pretty special. 

BS: What is the key to sustaining a positive relationship with a customer?

Ideally, being proactive and predictive about problems. The best complaints are those that never occurred. Fresh Brothers Pizza is a chain of 14 restaurants in southern California. When they get busy on Friday and Saturday nights, they often proactively give delivery customers small discounts, or extra bread sticks, etc. and leave a small note with the order that says “we were busy tonight. thank you for your support. not sure if this pizza was delivered late or not, but either way we want to make sure you’re taken care of. we value you as our customer.” 

Anticipate problems and solve them before the customer has time to complain. That’s the Holy Grail of customer experience and customer service. 

BS: Talk about what you’re doing with Convince & Convert- specifically how you are helping brands interact with their customers in new ways.

My consulting firm - Convince & Convert - works with companies to help them understand where and how they can be more responsive to customers (especially online), and how they can massively exceed customer expectations to create positive word-of-mouth. We create strategic plans, competitor assessments, and other programs that put these principles into practice. We also work with many companies on social media strategy and content marketing strategy. We work with The United Nations, Oracle, Cisco, adidas, Cabela’s, and many other great brands.  

BS: What is the future of customer service?

Using big data to be able to do more predictive and proactive customer service. Imagine the Fresh Brothers pizza example above, but with the entire system being automated. The other key to the future is even more contact channels. In the very near future, customers will start wanting to interact with businesses on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, and other places. 

BS: Curveball: You’re an Arizona Wildcat, but live in Indiana, so I’m sure you have gotten a taste of Hoosier basketball. Their chances this year?

The Cats are strong (as always) but are not peaking at the right time, I’m afraid. Now that I live in Bloomington, I am indeed a Hoosiers season ticket holder. This season started out very rough and has been on a very nice upward trajectory. When they play their game, Indiana can ball with anyone in the country. But, they are banged up going into the tournament, and rely so much on the 3-pointer, that they could also get bounced early. Fingers crossed. It’s going to be a WILD March Madness! 

BS: Thank you, Jay.

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