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(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help my movie and book buying habit.)

 

Please don’t buy this book.

I’ve seen Jay speak a couple of times and the most recent time I was intrigued by the study he conducted with Edison Research that forms the back bone of “Hug your Haters.” The study asked two basic, yet fundament, questions in this new age of online reviews and online customer service:

1: How has the proliferation of social media, review sites, and other online forms changed the customer expectations of what good customer service really means.

2: When interactions between brands and humans are played out on the public stage, how must brands perform to in order to satisfy not only the customer, but the customer’s audience.

Hug your haters is a guidebook, informed by real data, on how to best handle complaints in this age of onstage public complaining. When I read a new business book it will sometimes take me down a particular intellectual path, other times it will provide nuggets of useful information that I can use, and sometimes I will disagree with it to such an extent, that I cannot wait to be done.

Hug your haters is different.

Hug Your Haters, for me, is validation of what I have come to believe over the last few years. Negative reviews are a chance to shine. Upset clients can be loyal clients if you can turn them around. Onstage interactions with upset clients is chance to show all those watching that you care enough to listen, empathize, apologize, and try to fix individual complaints.

It is amazing to read a book and have the author focus on a point of technique, where Jay talks about shock and awe was my favorite moment for this to happen, and realize “hey I love to do that – nice to know I’m not the only one!” Although the book primarily focuses on online strategies for customer resolution, is does deal with offline issues and really provides a blueprint, with real world examples, of how to provide customer service in almost any sized business. The basic philosophy is simple – answer every negative complaint, every time, in every channel. By doing this the author, and I agree, believes that customer service can become marketing.  This is because, more often than not, these interactions are conducted in public with an audience.  

If I have to have a complaint about the book it is that Jay lets Yelp off the hook far too easily. My own personal feelings about Yelp have evolved over the years; from outright despising them for their failure to engage with their clients and critics which you can read here, to acceptance with a few reservations which you can read here. However, the issue that Yelp arbitrarily filters out reviews from real paying clients, but does not seem to have the same scruples when it comes to negative reviews from people you do not recognize, and refuses to engage about what has happened, still stands.

However, this really is a minor quibble about what is without doubt the bible of how handle customer service in the modern age. It is not for the faint of heart. Following Jay’s playbook, you will encounter managers, owners, and employees, who feel that you are opening the company to being taken advantage or creating a culture where customers are rewarded for complaining. And there are some merits to these fears; however, these are far out-weighed by the rewards.

For me this book is validation – thank you Jay.

For others, it is heresy.

For most it will be revelatory.

But I like my competitive advantage, so please, don’t buy this book.

 

You build a marketing strategy, craft your brand, have a good grasp of your online identity, lots of likes and followers on the various social media platforms, and even have developed great connections to your local media…and then you do something really stupid that could potentially blow it all.

Nobody is perfect, and we all makes mistakes – I’ve made some doozers. But there is a real difference between making mistakes, admitting those mistakes and then trying to fix the problem, as opposed to declaring war on your customers and ultimately your own business.

Lets take this little Twitter gem for starters courtesy of the Daily Mail. A customer in your restaurant overhears a waiter being rude about another restaurant owner who the customer happens to know personally. Your customer is not to thrilled with the service already, and finds this behavior to be rather off, so they Tweet about it. What you do not do, as a restaurant owner, is call up from home, ask to speak to the customer in question, curse at them down the phone, and then demand they leave. That, however, is exactly what happened. In the ensuing Twitter onslaught, the restaurant came off far worse and created a massive (the restaurant is in Texas, the Daily Mail is a UK newspaper as an example) amount of negative publicity over a customer service issue. An apology, and a courtesy meal or bottle of wine, could have turned this incident into a minor win instead of this major fail.

Next up, the auto-body shop that after using a photographer’s work on their Facebook page without permission, proceeded to threaten and abuse the photographer on their own Facebook page for all to see. Needless to say, the page went viral over Twitter and Facebook. With the almost universally courteous, and intelligent, posts from supporters of the photographer, and gangsta inspired vitriol from the body shop it could only be seen as a massive marketing failure right in front of the businesses own 500+ fans. I believe the page is now been taken down as I can no longer find it, but if anyone knows if it is still up please drop me a line so I can share the link.

The Airbnb saga, has been done to death but is instructive because even very smart people can do really dumb things. The basic outline is that Airbnb is a service that allows homeowners to rent out a room on a short term basis like a hotel. Unfortunately, when an owner returned to find their apartment trashed, and their identity stolen, Airbnb basically stuck their heads in the sand and appeared to try and discredit the victim to stop her blogging about her experience. After a major backlash, Airbnb added safeguards, an insurance policy, and tried to do the right thing by the victim. But it could be too little too late considering their model is very easy to copy and already has a number of competitors. Most people had never even heard of Airbnb until this story exploded.

Finally, something a bit closer to home, how would you, or your staff, feel about having this tweeted from your hospital by a doctor, or about your pet?

Twitter vet image blanked out

Not only is this amazingly unprofessional, but all it will take is a single person to make the connection between hospital and Twitter account (the account does not identify the hospital, or the doctor, but I have still blanked out what is there in the interests of fairness) and this will become a huge problem. I’m sure it violates the hospital’s social media policy and I’m sure you could make an argument for it also being damaging to the profession to boot!

The bottom line is that your reputation and your brand are fragile. It is very easy for it to be damaged by just forgetting the basics of customer service. Never do anything, or say anything online, that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the paper or on a billboard. This is an age where it is easier to get your message out than ever before, but it is also just as easy for everyone else. And nothing travels, or goes viral, quite as well as scandal or bad news.

Does anyone have disastrous stories they would like to share or other examples they have seen online? Share with the rest of us in the comments!

So Facebook and Twitter, which we looked at last week, are now part of your lexicon, what now?

There are other social media tools out there which can be of significant benefit. For Business to Client (B2C) businesses such as veterinarians, Facebook and Twitter are the ones to be using. However, having a strategy for some of the other sites can set you apart from your competitors and provide some interesting opportunities.

Foursquare

A personal favorite of mine, Foursquare is a location based social media tool with game elements. What does all that mean? Well, Foursquare allows users to “Check-in” to businesses and other venues using their smart phone’s GPS functionality. By “Checking-in,” users of the service let friends, via the service itself or by sharing on Facebook and / or Twitter. know where they are and why they are there. The game element comes from trying to rack up the most check-ins, and there by points and “badges,” than your friends. Users of the service can also compete with strangers for the title of “Mayor” of businesses or locations. The Mayor title does not mean anything other than bragging rights and more points when checking in. Badges can sometimes be difficult to get and so the competition can drive behavior. An example of this is the “Gym Rat” badge, that can only be achieved by checking in at a gym 10 times in 30 days.

Foursquare Badges

A selection of Foursquare badges

 Businesses can offer specials to Foursquare users when they check-in. Chilli’s, for example, offers free chips and salsa to anyone checking in on Foursquare – customers just show their smart phone to their server. Businesses may also reward the mayor of their business, making the title more coveted and therefore create competition around their brand.

 The grand theory of Foursquare is that it creates loyalty. If users have a choice between two businesses, one of whom there trying to become mayor of, they will choose that business or one is running a special for Foursquare users. Users of Foursquare can also leave tips, good and bad, about locations helping other users to choose where they might want to eat – for example. Because it is location based, it only offers places that are nearby, and allows the user to filter the results by type. This solves the information overload that can occur if smart phone users just trying to use Google.

Foursquare definitely has the potential to create a community of loyal users, and it has personal benefits (I use it to help keep track of my expenses!) However, the user base is small compared to other social media sites – particularly outside of major metropolitan areas. There are a number of other competitors in the location based world, the largest of whom is Facebook Places. The advantage of Facebook places is that it is part of Facebook, but it lacks a lot of the game elements that makes Foursquare fun and does not have the same controls on sharing.

Foursquare and other location based services have come under fire for the potential safety implications of letting your social media “friends” know where you are. This has been way overblown and as long as users are sensible, not creating a venue called “home” and checking into it for example, location based services will be around for a long time to come.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn, is often called the professional Facebook and with good reason. Like Facebook, LinkedIn revolves around a profile. The difference is that your LinkedIn profile is essentially your resume. You can find mine here. Users of LinkedIn can then make connections with current, and former, colleagues to create a network. It is then possible to reach out to colleagues of colleagues more easily because you know which of your network knows them. LinkedIn has an introduction feature specifically for this. It is also possible to recommend, and get recommend, which also then appears on your profile.

Mike's LinkedIn Profile

Part of my LinkedIn Profile

Groups on LinkedIn are pretty much just like other web forums, but by being directly in LinkedIn it is possible to be a member of large numbers of different groups, on different subjects, without having to login to multiple sites. The additional functionality of being able to make connections that can help you professionally in the real world is obvious.

 A questions section does pretty much what you’d expect – allows for users to post questions and then other users to answer them. The advantage that LinkedIn has over other sites with a similar model, such as Quora, is that you are able to research the person giving the answer to see whether they know what they are talking about. You also then have a mechanism for connecting with them.

 A recent, and extremely innovative feature from LinkedIn has been news. This allows users to browse and share news items with their connections based on popularity within professional categories. It also allows users to share these news stories via Twitter – expanding the reach of your network yet again.

 LinkedIn does allow companies to have their own profiles, a bit like pages on Facebook, and this is interesting from a recruitment perspective. Groups are also being used successfully for recruitment and many feature a jobs section. LinkedIn also recently launched an “apply via LinkedIn” button that can be used for online job postings outside of the main LinkedIn site.

LinkedIn is a business to business tool (B2B), rather than the B2C tool that Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter can be; however, don’t be surprised if LinkedIn does not become more and more a factor in recruitment of even minor posts in organizations. LinkedIn does have many issues (their mobile app is hopeless for anything other than news for example), but is a great professional tool for anyone interested in their career, or profession.

YouTube

YouTube is the video sharing site on the web and although being social it not at its core, it is still social media. Users uploaded material which they, and other users, can then share and comment on. Users can even create their own channels of material making it easier for other users to find similar videos. YouTube also has a number of great tools allowing you to embed a video directly into a website or blog. Video dramatically increases your website’s visibility to search engines, like Google and clients love it – a win all round!

Where YouTube really comes into its own, however, is that it is very easy for a video to go viral – spread around the internet like a virus. Of course, the video has to have some kind of merit; be funny, very dramatic, or even just be very bad, but if your brand is attached to this video it can be great publicity or almost zero cost. For example, it is not unusual for clips of TV shows on YouTube to have dramatically higher ratings that on the channels they were produced for!

Above is a great example of a viral pet video – 10 1/2 million views as of this writing and massive mainstream media attention for Denver’s owners. All from a video shot upon getting home and finding someone got into the cat treats!

 A great test of YouTube’s power is to pick any subject you like and search for a video on it at YouTube. Your are almost guaranteed that someone has shot and posted a video on that very subject. Thank you Corey for showing me this!

 Video production is really outside the realm of this already overly long post, but it is simple, very low cost and an extremely effective way to market your business.

Some of these social media tools may appeal to you, and other may not. There is definitely a take it or leave it feel to the services that we have talked about today but it is important to understand that to not be involved in social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter and to an extent Foursquare does not mean that your brand and business are not affected by these mediums. Your clients are using these tools and so might your competitors you should at least have an awareness of what is being said and why. The genie is out of the bottle and without getting involved, it is possible for you to loose influence over your brand – the control probably went some time ago as it is now the customer who ultimately defines what your brand means.

Next week, a change of pace: Up to your neck in traditional media!

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