8 Steps To Turn Unhappy Customers Into Raving Fans

No-one likes to receive negative feedback, no-ones like to deal with unhappy customers, but like it or not, unfortunately, all businesses will encounter them from time-to-time.

Whether this feedback comes from your online feedback collection system, email, a negative review, a social media post, a phone call, or it’s reported through one of your team members, negative feedback needs to be treated seriously and carefully.

The thing that separates an average business from a great one, is how they respond to unhappy customers. In fact, with a good process in place, customer-focused businesses can often succeed in turning unhappy customers into raving fans. (read our CX ultimate guide)

How can it be done? How do you deal with unhappy customers?

What Is a Dissatisfied Customer?

First thing first, we are going to define what is an unhappy customer. As simple as it sounds, a dissatisfied customer is someone who is upset by your services or product. 

It could be the case that your product isn’t meeting its expectations, or a bad customer service experience. A delay in the delivery of a product that was expecting to come for its daughter’s birthday could also be the cause of its dissatisfaction.

Keep in mind that you’re talking to a real human behind the scene. No matter the tone of his voice, you must respect him and follow a thorough playbook. 

How Do You Handle Angry Customers? 

Most of the time, an angry customer cares more about just feeling like they’ve been understood than lashing out at your company.

Handling angry customers is not a perfect science, there is no guarantee that you will always cope by. But there are steps you can follow to optimize your chance of success. As a rule of thumb, avoid jumping to a resolution heads-on, the customer would not feel like you have taken the time to truly hear its issue.

So, without further ado, we will cover 8 great tips to deal with unhappy customers, you will not only be able to retain the customer but also minimize the chance of this bad customer experience happening again in the future.

1. Firstly, Don’t Panic, Don’t Take It Personnally

The moment you first become aware of negative feedback is not the time to respond. Yes, you definitely need to act and you should do it quickly, but before jumping in, make sure you’re in the right mindset.

Pensive woman got the right mindset for business

For many business owners, it’s very easy to take any criticism personally as it can feel like a personal attack. This is even more pronounced if the feedback is public – like an online review or post on your Facebook page.

Whatever you do though, keep the feedback in perspective and don’t take it to heart. Remember that it’s only one person’s experience and other people seeing this will understand that things can go wrong, even for the best businesses.

Once your head is in the right place, make your response your top priority for the day.

2. Respond Using the Same Channel You Received the Feedback

If you received the feedback from the unhappy customers via social media, your first response needs to be in that same channel.

Yes, this means it’s public, and no, you shouldn’t just delete it from your page or block the user!

Even if you know the unhappy customers, responding publicly is a great idea as it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your business’ values and showcase your concern for customers. You should reply to the feedback and apologize unconditionally, while still showing others the best sides of your business. Remember that potential customers will be reading your response and forming opinions based on what you do when things go wrong.

3. Be Gracious, Apologetic and Keep Your Cool

This can be tricky so take a deep breath and think carefully about what you’re going to say. Even if the aggrieved customer seems to be making unfounded claims, don’t lash out, get personal or argue against their feedback. Remember, this is one of your customers!

Here’s a formula to follow to ensure that you handle their complaint properly;

  • Thank the customer for their feedback (remember, it’s always much better to hear about any issues or misperceptions than not)
  • Acknowledge their dissatisfaction, even if you disagree with it! You can’t argue with how another person has perceived a situation.
  • Acknowledge your role (or at least that of the business) in the problem. Maybe your support fell down, your solution wasn’t as clear as it should have been, or you didn’t properly communicate something. Whatever it is, take responsibility.
  • Explain any steps you are taking to avoid the same situation from happening again.
  • Point out some of the positive aspects of your business. Especially if you’re responding publicly, this is a good chance to highlight something positive about your business. (Eg. “We’ve added a lot of features to this area so I realize it can be confusing!”)

Most negative feedback offers an element of constructive criticism, but occasionally you can strike someone on a rant. Someone that seems to have an attitude problem, unreasonable expectations, illogical arguments, or is impossible to please. Don’t stoop to their level – instead apologise, correct any factual errors, and invite them back.

4. Decide If This Customer Is in Your Target Market

Sometimes complaints come from unhappy customers you never intended to serve. They might be complaining that you don’t have a certain feature, but you didn’t build your product for their use-case.

In these situations, you need to first decide whether this a customer you actually want to fight for. If not, follow the steps above but instead of inviting them back, suggest something else that might better suit their needs.

There are also some (rare) cases when customers are so abusive that you might decide you’d rather not have them as a customer.

You can also legitimately decide not to pander to these types of people and respond saying that your team is more important than serving a customer like them! Explain about the types of customers you like to help and the problem you solve.

They will either go away, or come crawling back to you.

5. Offer to Make Amends

If your business has genuinely ‘stuffed up’, you should offer to somehow compensate your customer.

While you can allude to this publically, we suggest that where possible, you contact the customer directly with some sort of offer to resolve their issue. You could also compensate them for having a bad experience (whether you think their grievances are legitimate or not).

Making amends could be in the form of a refund, a free service/product, or some type of special treatment.

With proper handling, often an unhappy customer can turn out to become one of your most loyal fans.

6. Take Feedback Onboard

No, I don’t believe the customer is always right, but if you get a similar complaint several times, chances are you should do something about it.

If something is broken, you need to fix it!

So get your head out of the sand and work out what it would take to address the problem. Is it staff training, a change to your marketing, a new fit-out, an improved process, a different supplier, or what? Customer feedback is basically the best kind of market research you can get. Use it to your advantage.

7. Follow Up (Don’t Skip This!)

Once you’ve responded to the negative feedback, perhaps both publicly and privately, don’t let that end your efforts to turn this customer around.

Schedule a call for a few days so that you can follow up properly (put it into your daily action list). Tell them how you’ve been thinking about them and wanted to check in with them. Let them know about the steps you’re taking. For example, that you held a team meeting to discuss their issue, or how you’ve put plans in place to build a new feature.

If their grievances weren’t something that would actually warrant any changes, explain why you’ve made that decision. Besides that, emphasize your concern for them and that you personally wanted to explain the situation to them so that they understood.

Taking this step is the one that is missed the most often, but it’s also the one that is most likely to win back the affections of your customer.

If the before unhappy customer is now happy with your business, you can use this opportunity to ask if they’d like to be part of a case study or testimonial.

Remember, you can also turn the stories about a customer mishap into a positive blog article or social media post – it is these kinds of posts that make your business real and relatable.

8. Encourage Other Customer Feedback

Customer feedback is an incredibly valuable source of information that can help businesses improve on many levels. Some of the ways customer feedback can add value include;  

  • product development and improvements – eg. suggesting new features or changes
  • providing quality controls for customer service interactions – eg. identifying the need for further training or performance management
  • helping to bolster employee morale by providing positive customer feedback to all parts of the organization
  • customer communications – eg. becoming aware that customers don’t understand or know about certain features available to them
  • marketing content – eg ideas for blog articles, social media content and also getting closer to the exact language customers use to describe your product or service
  • social proof – eg identifying extremely satisfied customers and requesting testimonials, case studies or reviews

Don’t shy away from encouraging customer feedback – especially on public forums! Often, you will actually need to ask your customers for feedback. Build this into your scripts and emails so that you get a regular stream of feedback.

Share the positive feedback you receive (anonymize it if necessary), and use it to both promote your business and to motivate your team.

Examples of Dealing With Angry Customers

Still not sure what to actually write (or say), here’s a couple of examples to help get you started with unhappy customers.

Sample Public Responses to Unhappy Customers

Sample #1 – Develop Customer Empathy

Thanks very much for your feedback. I am really sorry to hear that you weren’t completely happy with your experience with us. We pride ourselves on providing fair prices and would never recommend works that were not required. Whether an error was made on our part or some miscommunication, I’m not sure. I’d really like the opportunity to discuss this with you further so we can get to the bottom of it. Please contact me and I’ll personally make sure that you’re looked after. — Regards, Peter

Sample #2 – Compensate An Unhappy Customer 

Thank you for taking the time to let us know about your experience. We strive to provide a really high level of service. We especially pride ourselves on providing a product that works for businesses like yours; so I was devastated to hear that you weren’t completely happy. I’d love you to give us a second chance, so please, let’s arrange a time to talk so that we can better understand your needs. — Joanne

Sample Unhappy Customer Response Letter

Sample #1 – Invitation and Discount  

Hi again, Further to my public comment, I know you feel let down by our service but I’d really like the opportunity to show you the kind of service we normally provide. We’d like to invite you back for a complimentary full service anytime in the next 6 months. Please just mention this email when booking. I know you won’t be disappointed! Look forward to hearing from you soon. — Peter.

Sample #2 – Apologize Angry Customer

Hi there, As I mentioned in my response online, I was very sorry to hear that you were disappointed in our service. I assure you that our development team strives to take utmost care to ensure a smooth data import process. But for some reasons, this has obviously gone wrong in this instance. I’d really like the chance to rectify this and if you contact me directly, I’ll hook you up with one of our senior developers to get this sorted out. — Hope to hear from you soon, Joanne.

When you respond to negative feedback properly, it shows that you are a business that actually cares about your customers. Be genuine and personable and you will soon see that most bad situations can be turned around to everyone’s advantage.

About the Author

Fiona Adler is the founder of Actioned.com – a productivity tool for individuals and teams. She also writes about entrepreneurship at DoTheThings.com. With an MBA, a strong track-record in building businesses, and a family living in a foreign country, she enjoys pushing the envelope to get the most out of life and loves helping others do the same.

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