Why Marketers Are Douchebags

There’s an article yesterday on Mediapost that we’re not sure what to think of. It’s called, “What To Do With The Haters” and it’s all about how companies should engage irate customers online in public forums.

We feel sorry for the hapless flack needing a primer on talking straight with people. That’s what you get for failing journalism school.

The article is kind of funny and precious, gets some things quite right, and is posted after the jump with our comments riffs interspersed like so much salt on your birthday cake…

UPDATE: The author of the article responds in the comments. Gawd, we are like, so powerful.

Media Post: Online Spin for Monday, May 15, 2006:

What To Do With The Haters” (requires free registration)

“What To Do With The Haters” – seems a riff on “player haters.” Player, hustler, thief. Is this the dynamic, the company is the playa with all the bling and we are just scrubs, hating on them?

By Tom Hespos

In talking to companies about Conversational Marketing these past few months, a nagging question keeps coming up, and it represents a significant obstacle in the path of companies that want to speak directly to their customers online. That question concerns what to do about those folks who are so mad at your company that they can’t be reasoned with.

We hate the term “Conversational Marketing” and don’t understand why the first two letters are capitalized. It’s not a theological discipline.

The mere idea of jumping into an online conversation with your company’s worst detractors would make just about anybody cringe (or want to hide under a rock), especially if they seem hell-bent on openly ridiculing your company at any cost. Dealing with nightmare detractors effectively requires some of those very human skills you’ve learned during your tenure as a netizen. In other words, you’ll have to call on the communication skills you learned at your favorite message board, social networking site or blog–and not necessarily the skills you’ve acquired from your marketing career.

“Hi, I’m Betty Backbrace and I’m here to win your heart.” Not the strongest opening bid. We also hate the term “netizen.”

It’s been my experience that those who attack companies online rarely do so for their own sheer enjoyment. Usually they have some sort of axe to grind. Moreover, I’ve found that those rare individuals who do go after companies without a compelling reason are self-correcting. That is, their own behavior will cause them to destroy themselves in the court of public opinion. More on that in a bit.

The article assumes a combative relationship between the marketer and complainer. The complainer is attacking the company and you must defend. There can only be one Highlander.

Most people who are ticked off at your company are mad because of an experience they’ve had–maybe they think they got ripped off at some point in the past, or they had a bad experience with customer service, or they felt the product they bought didn’t live up to expectations. Your first job is to find out what they’re upset about.

Yes, that’s a good place to start.

I also find it rare that a detractor won’t tell you exactly why he is angry, when asked publicly in an Internet forum about why he thinks your company stinks. Anyone who won’t tell you why he’s posting negative things about your company puts himself in a really poor position; other people will see that there’s a lack of substance behind his ranting, and will likely begin to dismiss the detractor’s comments before too long.

The truly unreasonable should scream themselves out of existence, yes.

But as I said, most people will tell you exactly what they think is wrong with your company. You need to be empowered to respond to any points they bring up, and you need to do it in a constructive fashion. Here are some dos and don’ts:

Dos

* Respond to criticisms point by point without dodging issues.
* Speak like a human being.
* Bring others from your company into the conversation if you believe they have a relevant opinion or information that you might not have.
* Appeal to what a reasonable human being would think and believe. Your detractor might suggest entirely unreasonable remedies for making things better. Since you’re engaging him publicly, you can appeal to more reasonable and realistic alternatives.
* Always be constructive. It is not just possible, but probable that there will be detractors looking to bait you into a public meltdown. Keep your chin up and don’t let people push your buttons.

Don’ts

* Don’t post substance-free PR or marketing-speak.
* Don’t make statements that can’t be backed up. If you don’t have needed information at your fingertips when you’re responding, either get your hands on it or acknowledge that you don’t have the information, but will get it within a reasonable timeframe.
* Don’t attempt to suppress opinions or tune people out. You will fail.
* Don’t back people into corners. Always give them options. Your goal is to arrive at a reasonable compromise and extend an olive branch, not to prove somebody wrong in a debate.

DO figure out how to solve the problem.
DON’T simply offer clarification on how your company is justified in actions that pissed the consumer off.
DO give a damn.
DON’T be a defensive asshole.

As you might imagine, there’s no tactic or rule of the road that is applicable 100 percent of the time in an online discussion. These things tend to vary with the situation. But there is an overarching principle we all need to remember in Conversational Marketing – people respond to a human voice a heck of a lot better than they do to the voice of the PR department (or legal department) in your company. So keep things on a human level.
And please come share your favorite approaches to Conversational Marketing on the Spin blog. We’d love to hear from you.

Tom Hespos is President, Underscore Marketing LLC.

On the face of it, we agree with this article. Marketers should engage with customers online in a clear, honest, human fashion. However, first they need to unplug the mannequins, replace their staff with real people and then kill themselves.

The consumer is your girlfriend. You are the boyfriend. Your job is to figure out what went wrong in the relationship and why she felt cheated, lied to, ignored or all of the above. After making apologies and agreeing on a course of action for rectification and future behavior, then comes the makeup sex.

And as a marketer, you know that’s the best part of being in a relationship with a customer.

(Thanks to Mary for the article.)

Comments

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  1. Bubba Barney says:

    What is with the hetero slant?:

    ‘The consumer is your girlfriend. You are the boyfriend.’

    Kidding.

    Prolly my favorite line is:

    ‘* Don’t attempt to suppress opinions or tune people out. You will fail.’

    Oh yah you will. I think some people have learned that lesson here on Consumerist.

  2. Cell9song says:

    Typical corporate behavior. They need a power point presentation to learn how to talk to people.

  3. etinterrapax says:

    I love “…think they have been cheated…” as though it’s impossible that a complaining customer really might have been cheated. Sounds like the first principle is really, “Admit to absolutely nothing.”

  4. Tom Hespos says:

    Douchebag who actually wrote the piece checking in here…

    I’ve responded to this on my own blog: http://www.hespos.com/archives/000814.html

    Some additional comments:

    Cell9song – You’re pretty much on target. I’ve sat in a lot of meetings recently where a marketing person at a large corporation said something to the effect of “This blogging thing is really compelling, but we can’t let things get ‘off message.'” One of the ways I think of column ideas is to think about the things that marketing folks ask me about and then write a column about it. A recent question was “What do we do about those folks who hate us no matter what?”

    etinterrapax – I didn’t mean to infer that it’s impossible for customers to be cheated. Would this website even exist if that were the case? Let’s say I thought I got screwed by my wireless carrier. I make my case in a public forum, someone from the carrier posts about what they did to make it good – maybe most reasonable folks would think what the carrier did was adequate… It’s not outside the realm of possibility, and whether a company does enough to take care of an irate customer is pretty subjective, no?

    -TFH

  5. yerfatma says:

    I didn’t mean to infer that it’s impossible for customers to be cheated.

    You definitely didn’t infer that.