Greg Verdino: Love Your Haters!

Girl_heart I've discovered a surefire way to get a room full of marketers to go quiet.  Just bring up the notion of reaching out and bonding with the consumers that hate their brand the most.  Just a few weeks ago, I suggested this very thing to a client.  You could hear a pin drop in that room.

Now, I've written about the notion of "loving your haters" at my own blog and to me it seems like a no brainer.  You seek out the people who are your most vocal detractors and you listen — and I mean really listen — to all the reasons they don't like you and how they think you might improve.  You engage them directly, show them why you do things the way you do them, and make them full fledged partners in helping you turn around.  You actually implement some of the things that they'd like to see.

At a minimum, you get some great ideas for how you can make your business better.  Beyond that, you might even earn yourself some new customers, committed fans who feel like they were part of the solution. 

After all, isn't that why people complain in the first place?  Not simply to let you know you've let them down but also to prod you along the path toward better business.  Right?
I admit that I live inside the social media "echo chamber" where any conversation — even disagreement (maybe disagreement most of all) — is good conversation.  And I'll also admit that, out there in the real world, not every detractor has your best interests in mind; some people really do want to see you go down.  But if someone has taken the time to let you know that you've let them down — by calling your customer support line, by writing a letter, by complaining to their sales rep or (increasingly) by writing a negative blog post, uploading a video to YouTube or starting a negative thread in an online forum — isn't that exactly the kind of person you should engage?

McDonalds did this very thing earlier this year, when they put together a small panel of health- conscious moms and asked them to provide their unvarnished feedback about the restaurant and its menu choices.  Was this a risky move?  You bet — after getting a bit of an inside look at McDonalds any one of these moms could have walked away with a worse impression of the brand, and gone on to tell their entire network of (real world and online) friends about it.  But one look at the women's public and (to my knowledge) unedited journals show that the gamble paid off.  That's some pretty powerful marketing, if you ask me.

And here's the thing — you don't need to be a Fortune 100 company to do this kind of thing.  I'd bet that any business — no matter how small — can find five or six unhappy customers or (even better) former customers who left after a bad experience.  Find them.  Make contact.  Bring them in.  Let them know what you're doing and why.  But most importantly, get them to talk about what they would do differently and how they think their recommended changes would benefit your current customers — and win you new ones.
What's the alternative?  Let the feedback get worse and worse until you have a real problem on your hands?  Sure, I suppose that could work…

So think about it — what are some of the ways your company can partner with its biggest critics to have real, positive impact on your business?  And if anyone out there is already headed down this path, I'd love to hear your stories – I'm sure Drew would too.   

Drew's Note:  Greg Verdino is Chief Strategy Officer for Crayon and writes his own blog as well.  Greg's blog is a great place to keep track of trends in media and marketing, especially in the arena of new media and marketing disruption.  He's an in demand speaker and all around great guy.

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33 comments on “Greg Verdino: Love Your Haters!

  1. For insight? Sure. Plumbing the depths of your haters can give you a lot of insight into why your haters hate you.

    Often, simply the act of bringing them into an exclusive forum is enough to get them engaged — when talking to evangelist TDK tape users back in the day, they told me that they hated Sony because “Sony didn’t make tape… they probably bought it from somebody…” not knowing that Mr. M. Morita (Mr. A’s older brother) was an early innovator, painting graphite slurry on paper strips. Dr Chubachi, currently the #2 guy in the company, invented metal tape. Knowing this kind of inside information made them feel exclusive, which is powerful.

    It’s worth doing, although getting your haters to love you usually doesn’t have the ROI that getting the apathetic middle to get off the fence. But that’s probably a different post.

    Thanks !

  2. For insight? Sure. Plumbing the depths of your haters can give you a lot of insight into why your haters hate you.

    Often, simply the act of bringing them into an exclusive forum is enough to get them engaged — when talking to evangelist TDK tape users back in the day, they told me that they hated Sony because “Sony didn’t make tape… they probably bought it from somebody…” not knowing that Mr. M. Morita (Mr. A’s older brother) was an early innovator, painting graphite slurry on paper strips. Dr Chubachi, currently the #2 guy in the company, invented metal tape. Knowing this kind of inside information made them feel exclusive, which is powerful.

    It’s worth doing, although getting your haters to love you usually doesn’t have the ROI that getting the apathetic middle to get off the fence does. But that’s probably a different post.

    Thanks !

  3. Greg Verdino says:

    “It’s worth doing, although getting your haters to love you usually doesn’t have the ROI that getting the apathetic middle to get off the fence does. But that’s probably a different post.”

    Very true Stephen.

  4. Gavin Heaton says:

    Getting your haters on board also gives you a powerful story to tell. And often, the haters can become your most fervent supporters.

    But the best opportunity, especially with social media, is the chance to demonstrate how your brand/company deals with criticism. In public. It shows how the people behind your brand handle pressure and scrutiny … and this, in itself, is a mark of grace (or huge failure).

    When someone is researching your brand they are bound to find the haters first. Just check CK’s recent post:
    http://www.ck-blog.com/cks_blog/2007/11/all-hail-the-ne.html

    How you deal with these responses can be amplified across the web. Dell Hell is a great example. And so is the turnaround.

  5. Some great comments and I agree Gavin about showing you can deal with criticism. I came across a website a few months ago that had been set up to critique Harvey Norman retailers. Harvey Norman should have read the site. The posters pinpointed all the service flaws they had experienced and then listed all the ‘things’ HN needed to do to lift their game. HN tends to take the view that each store is separately franchised and thus they can take no central position regarding service. I don’t agree with that at all.

    I’ve recently observed a certain business being so intent on a particular game plan they arrived at that they are completely ignoring requests from the clients for elements said clients are asking for NOW – and elements I might add that are essentially cost free.

    Despite the clients saying “we would be really happy if you did ‘this'” the business is totally resistant and simply intent on a client development they have planned to roll out in a few weeks time.

    The shame here is wasting feedback openly offered and deciding the business knows better than the client about what the client wants. That is very very old fashioned trading (in my opinion).

  6. Devil’s Advocate: If you’ve screwed up, how often will that former client take the time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart conversation with you? When I’ve had a bad service experience, its usually a time issue – they used up too much of mine. What would be my motivation to share MORE of my time?

    This may work for some mid-large size companies, but what about consultants or others who are self-employed? Will the injured party be as open with critique to someone’s face versus a faceless corporation?

  7. Lewis Green says:

    Greg,

    I love your idea, and believe it is a profitable one. We must remember that ROI comes in many forms. One can be profit, another might be brand evangelism, this one might be decreasing, even possibly eliminating, negative word of mouth and bad feelings. That is huge and worthy of pursuit.

    In life as in business loving those who love us is easy. Loving our haters is difficult but comes with great reward.

    Great post Greg. I’m glad I’m not following you as guest blogger. This is a hard act to follow.

  8. J. Erik Potter. I completed a freelance task for a television show and they invited me back for the ensuing series. As we sat around a table talking about what didn’t work (in terms of our respective tasks) in the previous season and what did work I openly stated one issue that I felt I could improve on. I got a moment of open mouths and no sound emerging and then happiness and then I saw people crossing an item off their lists. I had saved anyone the need to be critical and I showed a mature willingness to self review and to do better.

    So, in this dialogue about being willing to hear critique, how about we include our willingness to critically review ourselves and admit the matters? I think we have fallen into a cultural trap of believing we always need to tell everyone how great we are and to be reluctant to admit a fault under any circumstance. That’s not the way I prefer to do business.

    As a client, I take the time to tell businesses positives and also about short-falls. Yes, it does take time, and often outlay and I am rarely, rarely thanked. The fact that on my blog I made a fuss over someone who DID respond well to the trouble I took shows how rare my experience of being received well is.

  9. Doug Meacham says:

    Greg, Great post on one of my favorite topics. I’ve written a few pieces about the importance of addressing the sources of customer dissatisfaction. The challenge for many organizations is figuring out what those things are. Many are so wrapped up in their own orthodoxies that they can’t or won’t see what their customer sees.

    In recent years, some struggling organizations have tried to innovate themselves to a more competitive position and some have even invited customers to participate in that innovation process. But if they aren’t executing on the basics, like meeting expectations and delivering a consistently good customer experience, looking for a silver innovation bullet is not going to be very successful. On the other hand, inviting those who are openly critical the organization to help fix the problems may be a great start to fixing the things that are broken.

    Risky? I guess that depends on how bad the organization is performing. Some have very little to lose.

    Doug

    p.s. Thanks for setting the bar so high. Better start working on my post now.

  10. Greg Verdino says:

    Great comments from everyone and thanks to those of you who have offered kind words. If we keep playing nice like this, Drew may never come back from the Mouse House.

  11. Arlin Pauler says:

    Greg:
    Your comments remind me that someone that was very sharp about how to succeed in Life as Human Beings, therefore in business as well, said “Love thy enemies”. Could it be that he was referring to even the people that lash out at us or complain because they are disappointed in our product or service? I think so.
    However, the rub is always in the how do we actually do that? I think you have given us some real practical pointers on how to practice Love as a business asset in the context of customer relations/marketing.
    Maybe I’m getting out there a bit or maybe just plain corny. But I have found that Love in a thousand different ways – okay, so I didn’t count them, it might only be 500 ways – is the missing link in having business be at the top of its game. Everyone agrees that treating people the way they want to be treated is good for business. The attitude of Love is the one Human skill that enables us to really do that.

    Have a fun and fulfilling day, Arlin
    President
    High Point Consulting
    highpointconsulting.net
    Be mindful of the difference you really want to make.

  12. Arlin, Need it be love though? I have this vision of a well intentioned but poorly advised manager asking his or her staff to please show love for the client base. I can just imagine the variations of perception of what that means (and I’m not talking sex). Workers could do everything from appropriate to overkilling compliments and hanging off the client and not leaving them alone in a store to simply being too personal. I have found for example a teller in a local bank who always asks what you’re using the money for that you’re withdrawing. She may believe she is being interested and pleasant. Many clients find it awkward and invasive.

    But couldn’t the quality be “open listening”, service and product pride or simply understanding the clients perspective and generating a safe and secure environment around that?

    I’m wary of pushing false sentiment or requiring sentiments along these sorts of marked passion lines. If people can be brought to feeling ‘love’ for their work and their clients well and good but I’m not sure I would be seeking this from my employees per se.

    I take the personal position of doing my best and entering the day intent on trying to make the lives of others better where I can and my own life similarly. As a guiding principle I think this serves well and brings about the service qualities we are discussing.

  13. Susan,

    Jumping in for a second before heading out to Disney World for the day.

    Yes…it absolutely has to be love. Too many businesses are afraid of that word. To create brand evangelists — love is a necessary ingredient. Every purchase is based on an emotional reaction. To evolve beyond a commodity to the only acceptable option — we must evoke love.

    There is no substitute.

    Drew

  14. Hi Drew, My problem with this principle has always been it’s relevancy and status for people in the lower-socio economic strata. Virtually all the marketing schema or paradigms I have come across talk about principles along these lines but always with great attendance to the middle class to luxury market bracket.

    I’ve posed my problem on many a blog and never received a response but perhaps I will here. 🙂 For people going into a $2 shop can the experience still be associated with love? Yes. It’s not often marketed along these lines but the experience can be love yes.

    However, many people in low income brackets also view basic shopping as meeting of necessities. In the community I currently live in I often watch people trying to locate enough change in pockets and in purses and in other places to scrounge enough to pay for bread or a drink. There’s not a lot of well being and love attached to these experiences. This said, in traditional times poorer people found a certain love in the corner shop and some still do however isn’t most visual and media advertising working to instill and celebrate love still pitching to middle and upper class income brackets?

    So, in sum, does advertising effectively (I’m not saying consciously) serve to imply certain traits and ‘gifts’ (if you will) are the property of the well-to-do only?

  15. Susan,

    I respectfully disagree.

    If I was incredibly poor and one company made a better quality of product or a longer lasting product for the same price point and positioned themselves as looking out for people who were stretching their budget — I would love them for helping me care for my family.

    I believe branding and love apply to all human beings. Perhaps for different levels of needs (shelter versus self actualization, for example).

    But we all need and feel love.

    Drew

  16. Essays says:

    I often watch people trying to locate enough change in pockets and in purses and in other places to scrounge enough to pay for bread or a drink. There’s not a lot of well being and love attached to these experiences.

  17. Theses says:

    Virtually all the marketing schema or paradigms I have come across talk about principles along these lines but always with great attendance to the middle class to luxury market bracket.

  18. Some great comments and I agree Gavin about showing you can deal with criticism. I came across a website a few months ago that had been set up to critique Harvey Norman retailers. Harvey Norman should have read the site. The posters pinpointed all the service flaws they had experienced and then listed all the ‘things’ HN needed to do to lift their game. HN tends to take the view that each store is separately franchised and thus they can take no central position regarding service. I don’t agree with that at all.Some great comments and I agree Gavin about showing you can deal with criticism. I came across a website a few months ago that had been set up to critique Harvey Norman retailers. Harvey Norman should have read the site. The posters pinpointed all the service flaws they had experienced and then listed all the ‘things’ HN needed to do to lift their game. HN tends to take the view that each store is separately franchised and thus they can take no central position regarding service. I don’t agree with that at all.

  19. Hi,
    Good work Drew. I agree with you on this article.

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  24. Great post.. And I agree with your thoughts especially with your last paragraph…
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  25. Very interesting and informative site! Good job done by you guys, Thanks

  26. Thanks for this resourceful information
    Looking for more from you.
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  27. I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

  28. I love your idea, and believe it is a profitable one. We must remember that ROI comes in many forms. One can be profit, another might be brand evangelism, this one might be decreasing, even possibly eliminating, negative word of mouth and bad feelings.

  29. Thanks very interesting 🙂

  30. Great post on one of my favorite topics.

  31. love your idea, suprbbbbb

  32. Greg, I think it’s an excellent idea and it will find a lot of people who will go that way.

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