If you manage a community or work on a customer happiness team, it’s probably safe to assume that you’ve encountered some tough critics and unique personalities on the job. Whether it’s the perennial customer who continues to complain about your product/service or the entitled user who keeps coming back with overwhelming feedback hoping to get more from you, there are a few things you can do to improve the relationship while earning their respect and ultimately, inspiring them to speak positively about your brand.
Practice humility: ask for their feedback
This is easier said than done when someone is particularly difficult to deal with, but often times the person expressing frustration is actually looking to be heard. Try being extra empathetic with stressed or angry parties by offering them a truly dedicated ear. For a few moments, forget about everything you think you know about your company, product, and the situation to let them share their feelings without your bias. Be humble and open, and you might uncover a new pain point.
If you communicate most via email, support tickets, or in a forum online, first privately communicate with the person to ask them if they’d like to set up specific time to talk offline about their issue/s. You may find yourself surprised at how emotions and tone can change after just a few dedicated moments on the phone or in a video chat.
I used this tactic quite a bit when I worked at JustAnswer.com, a paid Q&A platform. There, I managed the Expert Community, a group of people whose answers were the essence of the company’s product and service. While my job was to work closely with the product team to build tools that would help the experts aid their customers, glitches and bugs often prevented them from fully responding, deeply affecting their income. Understanding their anger, I was able to successfully set up phone calls and office hours with some of the most vocal experts, using the time to explain what exactly had happened, how we hoped to fix it, and what our end goals were. By the end of the call, I had usually made a new friend -- or at least someone I could turn to for honest product feedback and input later on. In turn, they became much more supportive of the company in the Expert forum while using private channels to air frustrations to me directly. A win-win.
Offer something of value if it truly helps
Generally speaking, tough critics have adopted their mentality and behaviors for some kind of reason, be it an off-putting experience or brash brush with someone at the company. That said, consider what you can do to demonstrate a genuine apology and bring them back to the happy side.
When I worked at payments startup Tilt, we were able to offer users who encountered payout glitches custom codes to waive fees or deposit extra funds into future tilts. Additionally, we sent them handwritten notes, t-shirts, and other surprises to let them know that we were truly sorry for the inconvenience and deeply cared about their experience with our team and product.
Though it’s not always appropriate or in the budget to send ‘stuff’ to tough critics, always take a moment to consider if there’s something of value that has the potential to make a difference. It just might.
Use them as an example to show company improvement
Sometimes, you can use tough critics’ feedback to turn them into an example and make them feel valued. Do this by showcasing how the feedback they shared will benefit the product, service, or community. Thank them publicly for their patience and their time.
A good way to do this is to extract key pieces of feedback or learnings from a communication or frame them with a progressive update. For example, if a customer is constantly complaining about a particular bug that’s impacting his or her experience, use her first name and a quote in a blog post or email to users about how the product is slated to improve and how the feedback helped guide that decision. Don’t just tell your tough critics that you’re listening; advocate for them and show them when changes actually take place. They’ll appreciate you for it, and in turn feel good about their time and involvement with your brand.
[bctt tweet="Don’t just tell critics that you’re listening; advocate for them and show them when changes take place."]
Build a community just for them
If you’re fortunate enough to have a number of tough critics, you may be able to harness the collective power by inviting them to an advocate group. It might seem farfetched to think about inviting a hoard of grumpy people into a group -- but believe me, it can be powerful in the best of ways!
If you consider doing something like this, be sure to screen your critics for those who have the potential to be productive and avoid those who show little openness or hope for change. When extending a personal invite, let each person know that because you’re working on improvements, you’ve created a community specifically for folks who have had less than ideal experiences and share a common desire to help the company become better. Be clear about the benefits of joining the group (personalized attention, a direct line for feedback), and your expectations while setting limits that help you keep behavior in hand. Consider using a forum or Facebook group to facilitate moderated discussions, and actively update the community on how their thoughts are improving the overall experience for everyone.
Remember to keep in touch
Some of your toughest critics may go (and sometimes, it’s for the best), but keep in touch with those who stick around and become advocates -- even as you scale. Thoughtfully check in with those who champion your brand from time to time; send them a note if you see that they’ve had a recent experience with the company. Call on them for feedback about potential changes, enhancements, or ideas.
While you shouldn’t kill your tough critics with disingenuous kindness, guiding them through a stressful experience by treating them with humility, patience and respect is highly likely to earn you the same.
Have you dealt with hard to navigate situations and difficult customer or user personalities? How did you handle it? What worked well or didn’t? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.