Embrace the Complaint

487527403I manage a Yammer enterprise social network for a large, religious non-profit organization. Some members of our network are employees, but most are volunteers and members of the organization. Our engagement rates tell us that many people use our Yammer network regularly, and are able to find useful information and networking opportunities.

This is not to imply that everyone is happy. We currently have 8,000 users, and we do get reports of users who experience trouble accessing the network and navigating their way to the specific information they are hoping to find. When people are experiencing difficulties, our staff is always there to help quickly, kindly and completely.

Recently one of our users was experiencing trouble with the platform and made a post on Facebook saying that our network was “so awful.” Several of his 3,000 Facebook friends made posts in agreement.

This was terrific!

It was terrific because now I knew. It was terrific because if this post was not made in this public way, I would have been unaware of the trouble these specific users were having. It was terrific because I could now take proactive steps to help. If the complaints were only made in a private email, I never would have known, and the problems would remain unaddressed. Now, I could take some proactive steps towards resolution.

  1. I responded in the Facebook discussion how sorry I was to see such unhappy comments and to reassure people that we continue to be available for help and support.
  2. I called the person who made the post. We had a good conversation, and have scheduled an online call where I look forward to helping resolve the problems this user was experiencing with our network.
  3. I sent direct, private messages to many people who responded to the original comment offering direct help and support so they can feel better about the platform.
  4. Many people reached out to me directly in response to the Facebook post to let me know how happy they are with the platform, and how appreciative they are of the good work we are doing.

There are always going to be complaints. That’s OK. But too often those complaints stay hidden in private conversations and private emails where nothing can be fixed, and no issues can be resolved.

Embrace the negative feedback when it appears. Shine a light on it. Express appreciation for it. Recognize the opportunity you have been given, and let the negative feedback work for you. Fix the problem. Provide great customer service. Encourage others to share their feedback as well.

Don’t Push. Engage.

A website can’t shake your hand. An email won’t laugh at your joke. A Facebook post won’t give you a hug. What they all can do very well, though, is get information to you. The information is pushed. Whether or not you decide to take the time to read the pushed information is up to you. Whether or not you decide to absorb that information, to act on that information, and maybe even to share that information with others is up to you. But, make no mistake about it, whoever sent you the information desperately wants you to read what they have sent, and to react in a positive way.

But, how many times throughout they day can people really expect us to engage with this barrage of information? We know you want us to attend your event, or buy your product, but honestly, why should I care? Do you know who I am ? Do you appreciate my specific concerns and challenges? Can I just have a hug?

I used to be a synagogue executive director. When board members would have a program to promote, they would work with me exhaustively to design and produce a large sign to display in our lobby, and as the date of the event got closer would express their concern to me that very few people have signed up. My general advice was, “If you want to be 100% sure that your event will be ignored, put up a big sign for it in the lobby.” People rushing in to pick up their kids from school, to attend a program or drop off a donation are not going to take the time to stop. To read a sign. To absorb the information. To react to the information.

In a way, posting a sign, or pushing information, is permission for many people to stop working. By getting the information out there, maybe they don’t have to make calls or talk to people in the car pool line. People will see the beautiful information that has been shared, and RSVP in droves.

Yes, pushing information out is an important step in sharing information, but to achieve meaningful success in the age of social networks, broadcast emails and strategic texts, we must engage people in deeper, more meaningful ways if we want them to respond, give or attend.

Imagine I am hosting a brunch at my house, and I want you to attend. Imagine I walk up to you on the street, hold a clip art brunchillustration of eggs directly in front of your face, and say “Come to brunch at my house next Sunday at 10:00 a.m!!!!” chances are pretty good you won’t attend…you may even run away and hope I never talk to you again. I didn’t say hello. I didn’t tell you who else would be there, I didn’t tell you how important it was to me to have you there to enjoy the delicious food and good company.

What if, instead of a boring sign with boring clip art, I came up to you and said Hello. I told you about the brunch that I was having at my house. I told you the other people who would be there, and I stressed that the brunch would not be complete unless you were there too. I told you what I would be serving, and I asked if you could bring the delicious coffee cake I know you like to make.

There’s a reason it’s called the information superhighway. We are moving quickly, and so is the information. People expect to see information pushed at them. They want to avoid this information, so they move by quickly. But, what if instead of simply sharing information as an announcement, as a “push,” we put a curve in the road? What if we encourage people to slow down, and we talk with them, instead of at them. What if we try to engage them in a conversation about things that matter to them rather than simply pushing information at them.

Your post could say “Join us on March 3rd at 7:00 for the next guest in our lecture series. Jane Smith will be talking about trends in technology and education. RSVP to info@info.com.”

Or, you could make a post that says “How do you feel when your kid comes home, plops down on the couch and immediately turns on their laptop? How do you respond? What are your concerns? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and we have some information that you might find valuable. Please join us and our friend  Jane Smith who will be talking about trends in technology and education on March 3rd at 7:00 p.m. Respond to this post, and we will be happy to follow up with you so you can attend the program.”

The chances of responses to either of these posts is largely dependent on timing, mood and a host of other variables. Ultimately though, people are much more likely to respond if we have shown that we care how they feel, that we want to hear from them, and that we want them to attend our program so much we will even take the burden off of them to RSVP.

So please, don’t yell at me, talk to me. Don’t tell me what to do, ask me what I would like to do. Understand that I am a special, unique person, and I am going to need you to make your message matter to me if you want me to care about what you have to say.

Brunch, you say? I love brunch. I’ll be there.