How To Know a Good Complaint From a Bad Complaint [audio]

How To Know a Good Complaint From a Bad Complaint [audio]

by Tracy Johnson

It seemed like a never-ending battle with our audience. Our morning show was the legendary Jeff & Jer, who were pretty good at what they did as evidenced by their induction into the Radio Hall of Fame. But barely a day passed without a complaint. That’s when having an audience persona was able to transform a radio brand.

I’ll tell you the story, but if you expect the happy ending to be that the complaints stopped, you’ll be disappointed. The complaints never stopped. However, it did change the way our station responded to each complaint.

On Star 100.7/San Diego, our station’s values were to be a bright, fun, positive choice for adult women to escape from the real world. We did it with a sense of humor, larger-than-life personalities, high profile promotions and an overall  goodness that translated into tremendous success.

Jeff & Jer were the morning show, the engine that pulled the train. Our philosophy was to be Disneyland on the radio dial: a happy place where there are no problems, no worries and nothing bad ever happens. There are no bad days at Disneyland, and those moms don’t have to worry about their children being exposed to something that would embarrass them.

That didn’t mean we were prudes on the air, but at it’s edgiest, the station was PG-13. We were sensitive to the role we played in listeners lives. We were far safer than most of the radio stations in the market, and even more family-friendly than popular prime time sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld.

Overcoming a Listener Complaint

So when I got an email, letter or phone call complaining that “I can’t listen to your station with my kids in the car”, it drove me nuts. For a long time, I engaged the listener, challenging them on their position. That’s always a mistake, by the way. The customer (listener) is always right in their opinion.

Most of the time, their beef would be over something that we considered silly. For instance, the show had a recurring feature where they’d pick a letter from the alphabet, and Jerry would list the names for boobs that start with that letter.

Okay, I guess it’s a little edgy to say “boobs” on the air, but in the context it’s presented, it’s really not something that would qualify as “dirty” or salacious. So using sound programming judgement, we learned to tolerate a complaint but didn’t take them seriously.

But everything changed when we conducted a research project using the OAR method of audience evaluation to better understand our listener. This is a fundamental step in the process of identifying traits when building an audience persona.

What We Learned to Transform a Radio Brand

As we gathered data using OAR (Observe, Ask, Research), we developed a clear profile on the life of our target listener, and it revealed hidden values that we couldn’t (or at least hadn’t) recognized.

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We knew that the women we targeted had kids and lived in the suburbs, but among the deeper things we learned in the project:

  • They worked full time because they had to, not necessarily because they wanted to.
  • Their family needed the income to pay their mortgage in San Diego’s expensive housing market.
  • Their kids were very involved in activities around school and the community.
  • They felt guilty that they didn’t spend enough time with their kids/family.
  • Most of them felt they had very little time for themselves.
  • They had a nagging feeling that someone else was raising their children and life was out of control.
  • And their #1 worry was that their kids would grow up with a strong morale background.
  • They trusted our station, and Jeff & Jer were a safe place for their kids-like Disneyland.

When we understood this about them, it all became much clearer. When they’re rushing out the door in the morning, loading the kids in the SUV and going over homework in the car on the way to school, we were their soundtrack, their friend, their escape from reality.

So no matter how fun or funny the “boobs” feature was, when it came on, alarms went off in our listener’s heads. It was like a villain was on the loose at Disneyland. Even if it wasn’t “dirty”, it suddenly wasn’t as safe.

Our Station’s Response

Armed with this insight, we made adjustments, but didn’t change our programming or eliminate that feature. However, we were sensitive to the audience values that were violated from time to time. We changed in two ways

Responding to a Complaint

I stopped arguing with listeners when they complained, because it was now clear what inspired their comments. It wasn’t their fault!

On-Air Sensitivity

When I shared the information with Jeff & Jer, the light came on, and they immediately said, “We have to stop doing things like that”. But that wasn’t the point. The content they were presenting fit very well into their character brand profiles. Changing the show’s content by eliminating material just because of a complaint would have removed some of the traits that made up the personality mix.

Instead, they framed those edgier segments differently, and it was brilliant. Instead of just presenting “Names for Boobs”, they set it up with an audio version of a “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” tease:

Jeff: “Okay, we know you’re probably on your way to work or driving your kids to school, so if you have young kids in the car…you probably will need to turn the radio to another station in about 3 minutes, because Jerry is at it again…and some of you probably don’t want your kids to hear what he’s going to be doing.”

In the background, Jerry’s complaining, “Come on, it’s not that bad. It’s nothing. It’s fun. They love it when we do this.”

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The effect? Tune in. Suspense. Expectation. Mystery. Who’s going to tune out with a tease like this? They have to hear what’s coming up.

The Lesson to Transform a Radio Brand

This is a great example of the value of  how to use an audience persona. The information gathered doesn’t always lead to an immediate change in your brand or product, but the understanding that comes from the process has a profound impact on everything you do.

It affects how you write promos, create posts on social media, choose content and present material. You’ll find that you think through promotions differently and adjust how you communicate through text messages and emails.

And, if you’re the program director, you may even alter how you relate to those annoying complaints.

By the way, the adjustments didn’t stop, or even reduce, the complaints. It did help us understand why they complained, though, and knowing that allowed us to respond appropriately. And it provided courage to stay out of the Zone of Mediocrity.

Get Your Audience Persona

If you haven’t built an audience persona yet, get started by watching the webinar on demand and downloading the free template to help with your persona profile.

If you need help, let me know and we can arrange to guide you through the process.

OAR method of market research

Build an Audience Persona Seminar on Demand

Zone of Mediocrity


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