Is it Time to Prioritize Customer Success Over Marketing? Jay Baer on Turning Haters into Helpers

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Editor’s Note: This is the second half of a two-part interview featuring Jay Baer. In the first installment, Baer explained why the customer service concepts he shares in his new book, Hug Your Haters, are particularly relevant for SaaS companies. Read it here.

Jay Baer is a man on a mission. With his latest book, Hug Your Haters, he’s out to prove that customer service is not just “a necessary evil.” In fact, he’s out to convince everyone who will listen that it may very well be the most important differentiator a company can have. The survey he did with Edison Research for the book turned up some compelling facts, including the stunner that a full third of customer complaints go unanswered. That, combined with the fact that most businesses grossly overestimate their customer service skills, creates a huge opportunity for companies who are willing to take Baer’s advice and hug their haters.

As a business strategist and renowned expert on marketing and customer service, Baer has worked with more than 700 companies (including 32 of the Fortune 500), presented hundreds of keynotes, authored five books, and founded the consulting firm Convince & Convert and its #1 content marketing blog. Over the last twenty-three years, Baer has accumulated a wealth of hands-on consulting experience that inspired him to tackle the complex question of how to best manage customer service in today’s 24/7, digital, mobile, social world.

To help SaaS companies get started on the right foot, Baer offers four tips to help you turn haters into helpers, adjust your mindset about “bad” customers, integrate your brand successfully in customer communities, and wrap your head around why you should prioritize customer success over marketing.

Enlist Your Haters

In the first part of this series, Baer shared a story about how Belgium-based restaurant chain Le Pain Quotidien not only committed to answering every complaint in every channel every time, but actually launched a company-wide campaign to solicit more complaints. The concept behind this seemingly crazy move was that the more complaints they heard, the more they learned about what they needed to do improve their services.

In addition to responding to complaints, the company turned their “haters” into helpers by reaching out to them privately and offering monthly gift certificates in exchange for on-going participation in a “secret shopper” program. In addition to the insights gleaned from this effort, Le Pain Quotidien has managed to turn a key contingent of unhappy customers into loyal advocates.

The strategy employed by Le Pain Quotidien can easily be applied to a SaaS company. “If I was an early or mid-stage software company, every single time somebody complained, I’d send them a t-shirt and a water bottle or whatever swag I had. I’d tell them we’re terribly sorry we disappointed them and couldn’t be happier that they took time out of their day to let us know we’re not 100% perfect. And then I’d invite them to log into a portal every Friday and tell us in 50 to 100 words about their experiences with our software that week. I would opt these people into an advocacy group and turn hate into help.”

Own Your Mistakes

Though he doesn’t write about it in Hug Your Haters, Baer warns SaaS companies to avoid blaming the customer. “There’s a pervasive tendency when a customer is unhappy or has churned to blame the customer,” Baer says. Too often, Baer hears excuses about customers being a bad product fit or not understanding how to use the software. “Any time there’s a misunderstanding or a misalignment of objectives in software, that’s the company’s fault. It’s never the customer’s fault,” Baer says.

“If the customer thinks you do something that you don’t, that doesn’t mean they are a bad customer, that means you’re a bad communicator.”

One particular pet peeve Baer has about the SaaS industry is the lack of transparency around feature sets.

“Every website is full of jargon that doesn’t tell you what they actually do,” he says, “and then the company can’t figure out why the customer didn’t know how to use the product.”

While Baer understands why a company might be vague about features in order to potentially appeal to a wider audience, he emphasizes that such a tactic is detrimental in the long run, “Would you rather have 100 customers who are the perfect fit, or 150 customers who aren’t? It’s counterproductive to waste resources trying to hold onto and then replace the ones who aren’t a perfect fit.”

Embrace the Community (and Be Human About It)

“All the discussion boards and forums where people talk about software – G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, Spiceworks – are enormously important for software companies,” says Baer. “Even though these are customer service channels, you need to treat them like the communities they are and not a telephone replacement.” In general, Baer finds that these kinds of forums are massively under-resourced in the software business, representing a huge opportunity for companies who do it right.

“A lot of companies view these communities as a niche play and either don’t see a role for their brand or just don’t want to participate,” Baer says. “But, you’ve got to realize that the people posting in forums are your most passionate customers. Those are your super fans.”

To best engage these super fans, Baer recommends having a dedicated staff. He cites HP’s Spiceworks forum as an example of community done right. “It’s really important in B2B to put a consistent human face on these interactions,” he explains. “HP has a dedicated Spiceworks staff who do nothing but answer questions, troubleshoot, and try to help. It’s not a rotating cast of characters. It’s specific people who are known within the community. They are, essentially, community members who happen to work for HP.”

Prospective customers do their research on both forums and discussion boards and also in the analyst publications offered by companies like Gartner and Forrester. “You would hope that the feedback from actual users carries more weight than analyst feedback, but it’s really not an either or situation. ” Baer says.

“Most actual users only know one or two platforms whereas the analysts have probably seen demos across a much larger swath of the market.” This analyst/real buyer research combo employed by software buyers is not unlike the consumer approach to researching a new car, which usually includes both the industry analysis of publications like Consumer Reports and the “everyman” input individual drivers post on consumer review sites.

Invest in Customer Success

“If someone were to offer you $150,000 to hire either the best marketer or the best customer success person, I think you should choose the customer success person,” Baer says. “If you just hire a marketer, what are you actually accomplishing? You’re just turning customers over.”

In fact, Baer goes so far as to suggest that customer service (or, customer success, in the case of SaaS companies) could become the new marketing. “Companies can very easily use customer service as their key differentiator,” he says. “Marketing’s role will evolve to be more about predictive content merchandising – helping prospects find the right stories and information based on context and relevance – while the actual content and information will increasingly come from real people, from customers.”

Understand That You’re All On the Same Side

When you hug your haters, you change the whole dynamic of the company-customer relationship. It evolves from feeling like us versus them to feeling like we’re all in this together. By putting aside the pointing fingers and focusing instead on just solving the problem at hand, you recruit your customers to your cause – you make them part of your team. Once you do that, anything is possible.