Admittedly, it’s not easy to hug your haters – those who share legitimate complaints or go as far as spewing negativity and toxic comments in public forums. But customer service has become a spectator sport, and business owners need to understand the game in order to play to win.


Complaints come in multiple formats, in many channels of communication, and degrees of intensity. In Jay Baer’s research with Edison, conducted for his new book, Hug Your Haters, he discovered that there are two main types of haters. These two groups of haters differ demographically, in the frequency of their complaints, in their use and embrace of technology, and in how and where they choose to complain. 

Understanding the two types of haters, and the differences between them, will enable you to spot them in the wild, and provide the support and succor each requires. Knowing your haters gives you a much better chance of being able to tap into the benefits of hugging them, because handling a hater incorrectly is almost as bad as not handling them at all. 

Offstage haters go direct and complain less 

The first group are Offstage Haters. This group almost always complains first in a private, one-to-one format, often telephone or email. Offstage haters are also slightly older, less mobile and social media savvy, and they complain somewhat less frequently on an annual basis. 


Even though complaints from offstage haters are private, they are often less strident and outlandish than many of the public complaints in social media and review websites. This is particularly true of email complaints. 

Telephone complaints come with a different set of circumstances. Because they are synchronous in a way that no other hater outlet is (even the best social media customer service teams take a few minutes to respond), the opportunity to unleash your wrath on the living embodiment of your ire is difficult to resist. 

You‘re already being forced (or feel like you‘re being forced) to take your time to complain. Then, perhaps you‘ve been stewing on hold for a while. Next, the person who is assigned to assist you doesn‘t understand the situation, can‘t easily access the information needed to address the issue, lacks empathy, or doesn‘t take any responsibility for his or her employer‘s shortcoming. 

You‘re being “helped” but not being heard. It just throws fuel on the fire.

Onstage haters go public and are more outlandish 

The second type of haters are onstage haters. These folks almost always complain first in a public venue—social media, review sites, discussion boards, or forums. Compared to offstage haters, this group is slightly younger, certainly more mobile, with more technology and social media savvy. Onstage haters also tend to complain more often, partially because they can do so from their smartphone in a matter of seconds. 


Today, for most businesses, offstage haters are still the majority, and most customer complaints are made in a private format. Jay’s research found that 62 percent of complaints are first made via telephone or email. But the balance of power between offstage and onstage haters is shifting rapidly due to ease of use and perceived differences in outcomes. 

Calling customer service as a last resort

Procedurally, it can be far faster for customers to complain in social media and through mobile applications like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even dedicated complaint apps. These near-instant complaint channels also allow the customer to voice a complaint with a business before they‘ve even left the premises. Taking the time to sit down and craft an email requires gratification delay and additional time and effort. Telephone is viewed as even more of a hassle, according to a 2014 study from Lithium and Harris Poll

“Who wants to call a customer service center to resolve a technical problem, product defect, or billing error? Fewer and fewer people, it seems. In fact, a vast majority of adults surveyed will only dial a toll-free number for support as the absolute last resort. Around two-thirds of American, British, and Australian adults and nearly three-quarters of French adults feel this way.” 

The study continues, “The only outliers are German adults, with only 46 percent resisting the urge to pick up the phone. What‘s not surprising, however, is how these numbers vary by age group—with younger people, regardless of country, consistently less likely to pick up the phone compared to adults 55 and older. But the data is starting to tell a compelling story about the future of customer service that is quickly shifting away from the phone in favor of digital communications.” 

While at Discover, Dan Gingiss was already seeing this shift toward online complaints. He suspects that in addition to smartphone technology, companies are getting better and faster at providing service in social media, thus training their customers to become onstage haters. 

The rise of the onstage hater changes everything

“Over the last year or so we‘ve started to see a shift. It definitely used to be that social was a channel of last resort. Now, for those people that use social as a customer service channel, they‘re seeing they get faster responses. They don‘t have to pick up the telephone, and it‘s generally an enjoyable experience. We‘ve actually seen a shift towards social becoming a channel of first resort.”

This move away from private complaints toward public complaints is revolutionizing the very nature of customer service, and has massive implications for staffing, technology, response times, customer expectations, and satisfaction levels. The rise of the onstage hater changes everything. 

Drawn from Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers, about which Guy Kawasaki says: "This is a landmark book in the history of customer service.” Written by Jay Baer, Hug Your Haters is the first customer service and customer experience book written for the modern, mobile era and is based on proprietary research and more than 70 exclusive interviews. 

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