Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) teleseminar called, “The Art of Listening,” where I (hopefully) helped participants learn a little about the free and paid monitoring services out there for finding conversations about brands, businesses, products, services and other topics. The presentation was geared toward the public relations professional not familiar with what many of us in the online space consider to be basic tools of the trade. You’d be surprised how many folks out there don’t know about Google Alerts.

The Art of Listening
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: social media)

As I was preparing for the session, I started running through a list of potential questions that might come up. One of them was, “How do I engage someone being very negative about my brand and not put it at further risk?” Not having actually pontificated a specific answer to that — I just do it like it’s part of a natural, social interaction or conversation, a recommendation I had for the participants — I jotted down a few steps to take. Not having time to go over them on the call, I thought I would offer them here.

How To Engage Detractors

1. Acknowledge the other person’s position

Nothing makes mad people more mad than the feeling they aren’t believed, recognized or acknowledged. If you’re upset about waiting in line at Wendy’s and the clerk behind the counter is running at about 1/4 speed, nonchalant-ing every interaction and lazily asks if she can take your order, it makes you more upset at the poor service, right? But if you wait in line all that time and the clerk politely and meaningfully apologizes for the delay and gives you impeccable service otherwise, you’re not as mad. By starting off with, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience,” or “Wow, that’s unusual, tell me what happened,” you’re validating their concerns and making them feel respected.

2. Investigate the cause of the conflict

Much like the title of yesterday’s teleseminar, there is an art to listening. If you do it well … heck if you even do it half way … the speaker feels respected, validated and important to you. Plus, by asking questions and being inquisitive as to the root of the problem, you come across as someone genuinely interested in helping. That automatically takes you out of the defensive and puts you in a positive light with the detractor. Plus, even a few cursory questions can often lead to telling answers. “Wait, you said the salesman said the Mazda was the Consumer Reports worst rated car? Well, the salesman actually works for the car dealer who was probably trying to push overstocks of other models out the door. I work for Mazda. Let me get you the right information.” In my experience, three questions in and you know why the person is mad. Making them happy is 10 times easier when you do.

3. Take responsibility for the solution

Notice I didn’t say take responsibility for the problem, but the solution. “I am going to find the answer to your question.” “I am going to find someone who can fix this for you.” Those might be the most powerful words you ever use with a customer. You’re telling them they are important to you and your company. They matter. Sometimes that’s all they want.

4. Encourage continued feedback

Let’s be honest, sometimes the customer doesn’t get their way. But if they feel respected, validated and that they matter, plus they have a person to turn to for future problems (not to mention they know you’re listening and watching online conversations) you’ve probably won a brand fan for life. They may not sing your praises at every corner, but they’re always going to talk about how the PR person from X company even called them to help fix something. That’s valuable. On my old personal blog, I once wrote something critical of Dell computers. It wasn’t Dell Hell or anything, but it was critical. John Pope responded to the post and since then I’ve always given Dell the benefit of the doubt. Of course, meeting folks like Lionel Menchaca and Richard Binhammer and seeing how innovative and tide-turning Dell has become, I love them. We wear them out as a case study because it freakin’ works.

Looking at that list, it might seem rather open-ended. It’s supposed to be. Perhaps the detractor’s situation gets solved and they are happy. Say, “I’m glad we fixed it. Please let me know if I can ever do anything else for you.” But leave the door open for No. 4. If it doesn’t get fixed, say, “I’m sorry we weren’t able to help you. Is there anything else I can do to make the situation better? Please let me know. You know how to get hold of me.”

The only potential drawback in following these steps is that you might actually have to engage a customer from time-to-time. If that scares you, find another line of work. By acknowledging, investigating, taking responsibility and encouraging, all with the aim of serving the customer and, thus, the company, I’d be willing to bet that 95 percent of the time, you’ll win them over. The other five percent? You weren’t going to win those over in the first place.

This is one man’s opinion. Please, share your thoughts on how to engage detractors and win them over. The comments are yours.

NOTE: Part of the preparation for this post involved a Tweet I sent out asking for conflict management resources. Special thanks to Doc Kane of Roscommon for an interesting company slide presentation and to Sandi McKenna for an interesting post from Elizabeth Tull on the topics.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Marshka

    That's always sad to feel this is *so* common-sense when you live with, for, and thanks to social media tools. Isn't there some kind of deeper problem that is : big firms used to make money not thinking of customers and, ow, gosh, they actually *can* think, even worse, speak on the web of what's going and not going ? This, added to a basic fear of the unknown (the web, a kind of “mystery that only 15 year-old little geeks can find interesting”), makes convincing them to have someone dealing with the conversation very hard
    “hey, where's my money, i can't see you earning me back my money, money. eh, money-money”
    “hey, can't you just kill this guy via your mouse, that's a mouse you call it, uh ? make him shut up”
    “we've already make an ad-campaign this year, thank you for coming”
    I'm desesperated. I'm even thinking this is much more a basic communication problem if the firms, be it on the web or not (except that on the web, there's this “counter” communication made possible.
    But I keep smiling and go back trying to convince my web agency devise new concepts to get our targets =)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the input Marshka … and good luck with the convincing.

  • Marshka

    That's always sad to feel this is *so* common-sense when you live with, for, and thanks to social media tools. Isn't there some kind of deeper problem that is : big firms used to make money not thinking of customers and, ow, gosh, they actually *can* think, even worse, speak on the web of what's going and not going ? This, added to a basic fear of the unknown (the web, a kind of “mystery that only 15 year-old little geeks can find interesting”), makes convincing them to have someone dealing with the conversation very hard
    “hey, where's my money, i can't see you earning me back my money, money. eh, money-money”
    “hey, can't you just kill this guy via your mouse, that's a mouse you call it, uh ? make him shut up”
    “we've already make an ad-campaign this year, thank you for coming”
    I'm desesperated. I'm even thinking this is much more a basic communication problem if the firms, be it on the web or not (except that on the web, there's this “counter” communication made possible.
    But I keep smiling and go back trying to convince my web agency devise new concepts to get our targets =)

  • http://www.sitecreations.com/blog Scott Clark

    Reputation management must have a plan for the entire continuum of issues, including slander, fraudulent accusations, etc. While engagement and working out issues is always the best course, there are many cases where people go out to hurt a company beyond reason. I find that this often happens in employment situations or even when a competitor is seeking to derail a merger/acquisition.

    In nasty situations you should see if what the person is saying violates terms of use of a given forum/blog. Often you can use the forums' own rules to remove the post and then directly talk to the person(s) having issues. I have gotten posts taken down in 24 hours where directly discussing the issue with the complainant was simply not an option.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Certainly good to consider Scott. I guess my rules are more for those situations when you want to engage the detractor. In more volatile situations, perhaps engagement has to be handled more carefully. But thanks a ton for the perspective.

  • http://www.sitecreations.com/blog Scott Clark

    Reputation management must have a plan for the entire continuum of issues, including slander, fraudulent accusations, etc. While engagement and working out issues is always the best course, there are many cases where people go out to hurt a company beyond reason. I find that this often happens in employment situations or even when a competitor is seeking to derail a merger/acquisition.

    In nasty situations you should see if what the person is saying violates terms of use of a given forum/blog. Often you can use the forums' own rules to remove the post and then directly talk to the person(s) having issues. I have gotten posts taken down in 24 hours where directly discussing the issue with the complainant was simply not an option.

  • Wendy Bigham

    Especially like 3 and 4.

    Also, acknowledging the problem as soon as possible may seem easy and a no-brainer, but when the customer makes threats about the media or law suits right away, the tendency is to look at all avenues and double, triple check the communication back to the customer. I learned this year that even with the best response, if it's too late, it doesn't mean much.

    For me, it helps to repeat the complaint back to the customer and take notes. And speak softly. :)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      True Wendy. And timing really is everything, which is why social media monitoring is so important. Keep your eyes and ears peeled and you can avoid a lot of grief later. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Wendy Bigham

    Especially like 3 and 4.

    Also, acknowledging the problem as soon as possible may seem easy and a no-brainer, but when the customer makes threats about the media or law suits right away, the tendency is to look at all avenues and double, triple check the communication back to the customer. I learned this year that even with the best response, if it's too late, it doesn't mean much.

    For me, it helps to repeat the complaint back to the customer and take notes. And speak softly. :)

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for the input Marshka … and good luck with the convincing.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Certainly good to consider Scott. I guess my rules are more for those situations when you want to engage the detractor. In more volatile situations, perhaps engagement has to be handled more carefully. But thanks a ton for the perspective.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    True Wendy. And timing really is everything, which is why social media monitoring is so important. Keep your eyes and ears peeled and you can avoid a lot of grief later. Thanks for chiming in.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    I may write the companion piece — what to do when the detractor doesn't welcome engagement, but enragement.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Sweet. Please do write it. That would be a good supplement. Thanks for hitting the SME, Ike.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    I may write the companion piece — what to do when the detractor doesn't welcome engagement, but enragement.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Sweet. Please do write it. That would be a good supplement. Thanks for hitting the SME, Ike.

  • direstraits94

    The steps you lay out are right on the money. They are tried and true but, sadly, it seems many of us fail to follow our own advice sometimes.

    It is a basic human need to feel wanted and be considered important. Business is about the customer and cannot be conducted in a vacuum.

    Even if you cannot resolve the conflict, you can feel satisfied that you had tried. As Ike pointed out, sometimes you just cannot fix the problem for some folks because they don't want to be fixed.

  • direstraits94

    The steps you lay out are right on the money. They are tried and true but, sadly, it seems many of us fail to follow our own advice sometimes.

    It is a basic human need to feel wanted and be considered important. Business is about the customer and cannot be conducted in a vacuum.

    Even if you cannot resolve the conflict, you can feel satisfied that you had tried. As Ike pointed out, sometimes you just cannot fix the problem for some folks because they don't want to be fixed.

  • http://socialmediavision.com JustinSMV

    Hey Jason, Great points you brought up here. I love Google Alerts and Twitter Alerts. Anything that can keep me plugged in to the online world about finding out where and who is talking about me or my site. What I found is that if you have common name then set up the alerts with more tags and combinations.

  • http://socialmediavision.com JustinSMV

    Hey Jason, Great points you brought up here. I love Google Alerts and Twitter Alerts. Anything that can keep me plugged in to the online world about finding out where and who is talking about me or my site. What I found is that if you have common name then set up the alerts with more tags and combinations.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    Great points Jason. It comes down to treating people well and caring about the situation they are bringing to you (or that you came across by listening). I'm as guilty as any one when it comes to brushing people off or not giving their situation the attention it deserves. Sometimes it just takes a bit of slowing down and giving the time and attention needed to help another person.


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    Great points Jason. It comes down to treating people well and caring about the situation they are bringing to you (or that you came across by listening). I'm as guilty as any one when it comes to brushing people off or not giving their situation the attention it deserves. Sometimes it just takes a bit of slowing down and giving the time and attention needed to help another person.


    http://twitter.com/franswaa

  • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

    You also HAVE to take web comments with a grain of salt. The medium is very raw and alot of people are negative for the sake of being negative. If you let things get under your skin you probably shouldn't market on the web at all, there will always be some negativity. Sometimes ignoring it is best.

  • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

    You also HAVE to take web comments with a grain of salt. The medium is very raw and alot of people are negative for the sake of being negative. If you let things get under your skin you probably shouldn't market on the web at all, there will always be some negativity. Sometimes ignoring it is best.

  • http://veryofficialblog.com/ Shannon Paul

    One of the things that helps me listen better to detractors is to understand that they actually care enough to complain. Nine times out of ten, their motivation is not derived from some sick impetus to destroy you or your brand, but rather from some type of disappointment. That disappointment is rooted in care — a wish for things to be different. Opening up a little and listening does a lot to completely transform the situation. Often your harshest critics become your strongest advocates once you add a little bit of listening and a direct feedback loop. It's nothing short of amazing!

    Thanks for the post, Jason! I wish everyone realized how well this stuff works when you work it right. :)

  • http://veryofficialblog.com/ Shannon Paul

    One of the things that helps me listen better to detractors is to understand that they actually care enough to complain. Nine times out of ten, their motivation is not derived from some sick impetus to destroy you or your brand, but rather from some type of disappointment. That disappointment is rooted in care — a wish for things to be different. Opening up a little and listening does a lot to completely transform the situation. Often your harshest critics become your strongest advocates once you add a little bit of listening and a direct feedback loop. It's nothing short of amazing!

    Thanks for the post, Jason! I wish everyone realized how well this stuff works when you work it right. :)

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    Jason…I was actually researching this yesterday, so I could better prepare myself to dealing with detractors. You have confirmed a lot of ideas on how to deal with the problem and rapidly deescalate the situation. The amazing “just be a cool dude/person” idea behind social media has thus far guided a lot of my responses to issues and problem. Thanks for reaffirming a lot of my core beliefs…btw loved the video response last week.

  • http://thelostjacket.com Stuartfoster

    Jason…I was actually researching this yesterday, so I could better prepare myself to dealing with detractors. You have confirmed a lot of ideas on how to deal with the problem and rapidly deescalate the situation. The amazing “just be a cool dude/person” idea behind social media has thus far guided a lot of my responses to issues and problem. Thanks for reaffirming a lot of my core beliefs…btw loved the video response last week.

  • http://www.radian6.com Richard McInnis

    HI Jason,
    Another great post by the SME. I'm asked how to approach this daily as I speak to both corporations and agencies trying to help their clients navigate the social web. I'll definitely be sending people over to this post as a resource. Keep the great stuff coming, its been great seeing home much you've contributed to the community here over 2008. Looking forward to seeing lots of great stuff in 2009.

    As always thanks for being kind enough to include Radian6 in your presentation as an option for listening and managing engagement.

    Cheers,
    Richard

  • http://www.radian6.com Richard McInnis

    HI Jason,
    Another great post by the SME. I'm asked how to approach this daily as I speak to both corporations and agencies trying to help their clients navigate the social web. I'll definitely be sending people over to this post as a resource. Keep the great stuff coming, its been great seeing home much you've contributed to the community here over 2008. Looking forward to seeing lots of great stuff in 2009.

    As always thanks for being kind enough to include Radian6 in your presentation as an option for listening and managing engagement.

    Cheers,
    Richard

  • http://www.radian6.com Richard McInnis

    HI Jason,
    Another great post by the SME. I'm asked how to approach this daily as I speak to both corporations and agencies trying to help their clients navigate the social web. I'll definitely be sending people over to this post as a resource. Keep the great stuff coming, its been great seeing home much you've contributed to the community here over 2008. Looking forward to seeing lots of great stuff in 2009.

    As always thanks for being kind enough to include Radian6 in your presentation as an option for listening and managing engagement.

    Cheers,
    Richard

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