Why Haters Are Your Most Important Customers


Negativity and complaints cost time, money and credibility. And as damaging as that can be, the rise of customer complaints can actually serve as a service multiplier. One of the most overlooked benefits of hugging your haters is the potential to glean insights about your business. Paying attention to customer feedback can lead to valuable improvements to your operations and processes from insiders who are passionate about your product or service.

Very few people complain without a reason to do so.

The fact that your customer is taking time out of their day to give you feedback means that they care.

Are you listening – really listening – to each of them? It’s important to recognize that haters actually take time to let you know what they think, giving you an opportunity to take action that not only could potentially mollify them but also could fix the underlying cause of the problem, and eliminate complaints from the next batch of customers. Haters are the canaries in the coal mine. They are the early warning detection system for your business.

The “meh” in the middle will kill your business.

The real problem for your business is the people who have a poor experience but are not passionate enough about you and your company to take the time to say something about it in a form or fashion that you can find and act upon. They are the “meh” in the middle, and they are what kill businesses. Renowned digital marketer, technology investor, and author of Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, Gary Vaynerchuk has a blustery style that draws complaints from people who do not like his approach. But that’s the group to which he pays the most attention historically. “I’m a big fan of people who are publicly negative about you, because the ‘invisible negative’ crew is the thing I’m most scared about,” he says.

Don’t be afraid of complaints.

Dan Gingiss, formerly the head of social media customer service at Discover Financial Services, and now a leading digital marketer at Humana, concurs. “I would say don’t be afraid of complaints. The fact that your customer is taking time out of their day to give you feedback means that they care. That should be appreciated. If somebody didn’t care, then they would not necessarily feel the need to complain. They just go to your competitor.” I love the way Richard Binhammer looks at this dynamic. Binhammer is a business consultant and adviser who helped lead Dell’s foray into social media customer service. He says, “Think about when you unfriend someone on Facebook. You don’t reach out to tell them, ‘Hey, screwball, I’m unfriending you because you’re an idiot.’ People just go and unfriend people. If they really care they’ll call you out and talk about it before they give up on you. Customer service is the last call before you lose them. So don’t assume just because they said they hate you that they actually hate you. They are telling you that they’re upset with you and they do still kind of love you, otherwise they wouldn’t be taking the time to ask for help.”

Complaints and haters are the mathematical minority.

Despite being sometimes painful to address, complaints and haters are very much the mathematical minority, increasing their value to your business. Indeed, the “meh” in the middle that doesn’t care enough to log a complaint is a much, much larger group of dissatisfied customers. This has always been the case. John Goodman’s research at TARP on behalf of RAND began in the 1970s. In addition to discovering the customer advocacy impact of hugging your haters discussed above, he also found that 95 percent of disgruntled customers never complain to the entity responsible for their dissatisfaction.

Complainers provide a road map for increasing revenue.

That five percent of your unhappy customers who do care enough to complain give you a road map for how to fix whatever ails your business. Because while the people who take the time to complain are a small percentage of your overall customer base, the conditions of their dissatisfaction apply to all customers. In this way, the haters are the vocal representatives of everyone your company serves.

“Last summer, we had an instance where we were getting a lot of complaints about our lemonade. People were saying that it tasted different than the year before, and that it was tart and sour. We noticed these complaints, and went back to our chefs, and they actually realized that the recipe wasn’t being batched correctly in many locations. So they fixed it, and after that, we didn’t receive any more complaints,” recalls Erin Pepper, formerly head of marketing and guests relations for Le Pain Quotidien, a 200+ outlet restaurant chain.

It was the handful of haters who took the time to complain that enabled Erin to find the problem and fix it. This fix then benefited not just the haters themselves but the silent majority who didn’t like the lemonade but remained silent.

Complaints are valuable, free information.

When you’re able to analyze and act to improve your operations, complaints become massively valuable, free information that can be a catalyst for excellence, rather than something annoying that has to be “dealt with.” Instead of trying to reduce the number of complaints and eliminate haters, you should encourage complaints and make customer feedback mechanisms as plentiful and simple as possible.

The operations improvements that are bred in the petri dish of negativity also create other business benefits that impact the bottom line. This service multiplier effect can be massive in large companies that understand the relationship between complaints, insight gleaning, customer service, and subsequent customer experience tweaks.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the more than 25 years I have been a consultant and entrepreneur, it’s this:

Praise is massively overrated.

Praise is about ego, not improvement.

Every time someone tells you that you’re great at this or that, it feels terrific. But it almost never teaches you anything. Because you already know what you’re good at, don’t you? Praise is about ego, not improvement.

What makes you a better marketer, a better salesperson, a better executive, a better spouse, parent, or friend is negative feedback and criticism.

Good players try to minimize complaints. Great players try to maximize complaints, because they are the raw materials for getting better, and better, and better.

If you want to take yourself and your business to the next level of success, stop running away from complaints, and start running toward them.

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