Are you hugging your haters?

From my first jobs as a barista at Starbucks and then as a busboy at one of Los Angeles' most popular restaurants, I learned how customer service can literally make or break a business.

When I worked at Starbucks, there was a policy called "Always Say Yes," in which we as employees were required to (almost) always say yes to customer complaints. Since then, I've learned that the customer isn't always right, but the point is: If you're not in the business of making your customers happy, you won't be in business for very long.

At the Los Angeles restaurant, where I was a busboy once upon a time, I learned the importance of proactive customer service; that is, foreseeing customers' questions before they bring them to your attention. For instance, instead of waiting for a customer to request more of whatever he or she was drinking, I was taught to automatically refill his or her glass if it was half full (especially if I knew the customer hadn't received his or her meal yet).

Customer service and social media

Whether it's asking questions or raising complaints, social media is now the primary way by which most people want to interact with businesses outside of the traditional marketplace.

For example, Facebook recently added a simplified CRM to its private messaging system for businesses. You can also chat with website visitors chat by installing Facebook Messenger on your website. And through my consulting work, I've seen an influx of customers (of all ages) who prefer to communicate with my clients via social media, as opposed to the more old-fashioned way of contacting them through their websites or otherwise.

The problem is: Most businesses aren't all that interested in serving on social media; they mostly want to use it to sell.

What these businesses fail to understand is that, by serving first and foremost, you open up more opportunities to sell down the line.

If you’re not in the business of making your customers happy, you won’t be in business for very long.

Serving on social media

Just like in offline encounters, there are two ways to serve on social media: proactive and reactive customer service.

Proactive customer service (or what I call content as customer service) is the ability to (a) foresee people’s questions, concerns, hesitations and problems related to your business and/or industry before they bring them to your attention, and then (b) give them content (usually via social media) that answers, eliminates, eases or otherwise negates these questions, concerns, hesitations and problems.

(More about how to use content as customer service in my self-paced online course, The Business of Social: A Social Media MasterCourse -- use 100% discount code HugYourHaters)

Reactive customer service means putting systems and protocols in place that allow your business to authentically answer people's questions and address their complaints in an efficient and effective manner -- with the end goal of (a) onboarding prospective customers who may otherwise take their money somewhere else, (b) retaining existing customers, and (c) maximizing lifetime customer value.

Relative to proactive customer service, performing reactive customer service on social media is much more difficult to manage and scale. For one thing, it can be a lot more time-consuming because it usually takes a 1-to-1 effort. And second, people don't always directly engage a business they refer to in a social media post -- which means the business needs to go on the offensive in order to track down this post, and then respond to it (all within a reasonable amount of time, which can sometimes be a few hours in the fast-track world of social media).

That's why I'm super pumped for Jay Baer's new book Hug Your Haters. In short, Jay's book is all about:

  • Why you (literally) can’t afford to ignore your haters (people who complain about your business -- whether legitimate or not), and
  • How to embrace complaints, turn unhappy people into loyal customers, and boost your bottom line as a result

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If your business has a presence on social media, Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor or any other public digital domain, Jay's newest book is simply a must-read.

If you're ready to accept the fact that social media is how your customers want to communicate with your business when they're not face-to-face, it might be wise to start getting serious about customer service on social media. (Hug Your Haters is a great start.)

If you're mindful enough to realize the unprecedented and even lucrative opportunity that social media affords businesses to have a two-way conversation with customers, which (a) can increase customer retention and (b) provides an outlet for authentic, candid feedback that can help us become better businesses -- you'll read Hug Your Haters.

As Jay points out in his book, 80 percent of businesses think they're providing great customer service, yet only 8 percent of customers actually agree.

Perhaps it's time to start hugging your haters.

* This post was not sponsored by Jay Baer, or any party affiliated with him or the Hug Your Haters book.

Josh Hoffman (better known as Social Media Josh) is an international social media consultant, instructor and speaker, as well as the creator of The Social Media Freelancer (a digital hub exclusively for current and aspiring social media managers, consultants and strategists who want to build or boost their freelance business).

For high-level content about social media, marketing, personal branding, freelancing, entrepreneurship and other random thoughts, connect with Josh on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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