“Do this for me . . . or else” is the general thrust of some customer interactions with haters who believe they can hold businesses hostage simply because social media, reviews sites, and forums include onlookers. Because they have an online audience, onstage haters‘ behavior can feel like an extortion scheme. This is especially prevalent among “influencers” who believe that citizenship and the laws of society should be amended due to their ability to craft 140-character witticisms on Twitter.
This doesn‘t happen often, but it does happen.
And when it happens, companies often say “good riddance, that was a bad customer.” This makes inadequate customer experience and refusal to answer complaints institutionally permissible, as long as it was “the customer‘s fault.” Lee Cockerell recounted seeing this “bad customer” fallacy play out during his time at the Walt Disney theme parks in his book, The Customer Rules:
There’s No Such Thing as a “Bad” Customer
“From time to time over the years, a customer would complain to me that a frontline employee had been belligerent. When I asked the employee what happened, I‘d usually be told that the customer was wrong about the facts, or had been abusive, or was trying to cheat the company. Most of the time, the employee believed it was better to lose a bad customer than appease one. They were surprised when I told them there‘s no such thing as a “bad” customer.”
Debbie Goldberg from Fresh Brothers answers almost every complaint, in every channel, and routinely delivers gift cards to unhappy customers. She‘s heard, over and over, that one of the reasons businesses don‘t get involved with customers (especially in social media and review sites) is because customers will try to extort the company for free goods and services. She is unmoved by this argument.
Leverage Customers as Brand Ambassadors
“It makes me laugh. These people are providing feedback to your business for free, so rewarding them with a $10 or $15 gift certificate makes them feel great, first of all. But it‘s just really smart. It‘s like having these brand ambassadors out there, and you want to keep them going. You want to keep them giving you thumbs up and shout outs, and it‘s really an easy way to build a relationship with people, and to get them to be even further invested, emotionally, in your company,” she says. She also acknowledged that there are customers looking to take advantage of her largesse:
“We do see times where we think a person is fishing for a gift card, but you‘ve got to go with the benefit of the doubt. We have a tracking system where we know who we‘re sending gift certificates out to. If we see somebody that‘s a repeat, we‘ll look and see why and investigate. But overall, it‘s definitely not my first concern.”
The Cost of Doing Business
It‘s not Gary Vaynerchuk‘s first concern either. His company, VaynerMedia, manages the online interactions for dozens of very large, multi-national brands. In an interview with me, when asked about the dangers of customers trying to get a discount he said, “Who cares? That‘s the cost of doing business. I wish everybody would give away free gift cards because it would provide a better cost of new customer acquisition than marketing does. It‘s literally better to give away free gift cards to everybody than it is to do a broad, expensive marketing campaign.”
Is the distribution of a few undeserved gift cards (or whatever the equivalent might be in your business), sufficient grounds to not hug your haters? Not every customer has pure intentions, but is that a legitimate rationale to ignore them? Many experts and business owners say it is not.
Your Audience Respects the Truth
And on the flip side, if it makes you feel ethically compromised to provide a freebie to someone who may not warrant it, simply don‘t. If a customer threatens to slam you on Twitter, or write a negative review, or turn their friends into a pitchfork-wielding, angry mob on Facebook, maybe you just shouldn‘t give in to them. Let them go onstage. Because if you‘re committed to answering every complaint, in every channel, every time, you‘ll have the chance to tell your side of the story. And the audience almost always respects the truth.
As Wade Lombard from Square Cow Moovers tells it, “One out of maybe 500 clients truly are malicious and deceitful. They want to take advantage, and they aren‘t reasonable. But man, 99% of them are just wonderful people. And so I‘m going to take those odds to Vegas every time.”
Drawn from Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers, about which Guy Kawasaki says: “This is a landmark book in the history of customer service.” Written by Jay Baer, Hug Your Haters is the first customer service and customer experience book written for the modern, mobile era and is based on proprietary research and more than 70 exclusive interviews.