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5 Ways to Turn Your Unhappy Customer into a Valuable Resource

There are few things that impact a brand’s reputation more than the way it responds to complaints and unhappy customers. Customer service has always been an important part of developing brand loyalty, in fact it was the center of the business model that allowed companies like Nordstrom’s and Zappos to thrive. And now that the internet and social media give individuals their own platform to publish information about their daily lives, it’s becoming even more critical for companies to provide great customer service.

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It’s easier than ever for customers to publicly share their experiences, and the way you respond to unhappy customers will determine what they say about you afterward. So what can you do to make sure that you properly respond to an unhappy customer so that you both experience the most pleasant outcome possible? And is there a way you can actually make unhappy customers helpful to your business, so that instead of treating them like a problem – you actually see them as an opportunity?

Yes, there is. Each dissatisfied contact has the potential for becoming your company’s best advertisement, a key referral source, and a stealth undercover operative – if you are willing to listen.

Here are five ways to turn unhappy customers into a valuable resource for your business:

1. Make Your Customer Feel Heard.

All complaints are similarly themed – something was supposed to happen that didn’t. A product doesn’t work, a repairperson doesn’t show up as scheduled, an expectation wasn’t met. In any event, your client was inconvenienced or worse. By the time the problem is severe enough for the customer to contact you, they are undoubtedly upset.

If you respond to an unhappy customer by immediately trying to get to a solution, it can possibly backfire and make the customer even more upset. Being unhappy or angry with a company or product puts the customer in a highly emotional state, so the first thing you should try to do is get them into a more agreeable frame of mind.

Often times an unhappy customer actually cares more about just feeling like they’ve been understood. But if you immediately jump to a resolution, the customer won’t feel like you’ve taken the time to truly hear their problem.

We all like to feel that we’re special, so even if the customer’s complaint is a common one take the time to make them feel heard. You can do this by acknowledging not just the facts of the situation, but also how it made them feel. For example “It must have been frustrating for you to bring home our product only to realize it wasn’t the right model for your needs.”

Whether you are the first line of defense or last in line of escalating concerns, every call or message on social media matters, and the way you handle the conversation from the very beginning can go a long way towards diffusing the situation.

While it’s only natural to get defensive when someone is criticizing your product or service, you can mine the complaint for valuable information, and potentially convert a hostile caller into a loyal devotee.

No one is ever going to be more honest with you than an unhappy customer. It also gives you the opportunity to gain valuable insight into whether any internal processes need to be fixed when dealing with customers so make sure to take detailed notes.

Dominos was often the butt of jokes, with many people complaining that their pizza tasted like cardboard. The company tied with Chuck E. Cheese, coming in last place in a consumer’s taste preference survey done by Brand Keys in 2009.

The company listened to its unhappy customers and responded by changing their pizza recipe. They encouraged consumers as well as food bloggers to try their new pizza and to leave feedback through social media. This type of transparency and willingness to take criticism and do something about it generated goodwill towards the company and a willingness for people to give Dominos another shot.

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As CEO Patrick Doyle stated in a documentary created by Dominos to show how they listened to their critics, “You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better pizza. We did the latter.”

2. Do All That You Can to Delight Your Unhappy Customer.

No question, some problems are more difficult than others to fix – a moving company drops a valued antique, a supplier misses a critical deadline, the cable company drops the biggest game of the year. Sometimes, you can’t undo the problem, but you can always find a way to make it up to the customer. The degree to which you do so will go a long way towards converting your unhappy customer into your most vocal advocate.

Going out of your way to accommodate a customer’s needs makes them feel important, respected and in control. Whenever possible, try to give your customer even more than they asked for. By delivering even the smallest amount above their expectations, you can make them feel like they are your most valued customer.

When a customer’s Christmas package was stolen from their apartment building, the customer service reps at popular on-line retailer Amazon.com didn’t point fingers, they went to work exceeding expectations, delivering a replacement order and waiving the shipping charges. Even though the loss wasn’t Amazon’s fault, they fixed the customer’s problem. The news of their corporate generosity made most major newscasts and generated goodwill and publicity far beyond the costs of the package they replaced.

Converting unhappy customers into valued customers will dramatically impact your repeat business. Everyone knows problems happen, products sometimes break and service providers occasionally fail. It’s how you make up for the inconvenience that makes the difference. You distinguish yourself from your competition by the way you make things right. Customers will come back to your brand over and over again when they know you’ll address any problem that arises.

3. Damage Control – Protect Your Brand from Negative Mentions.

There used be a standard formula that said when someone experienced poor customer service they would tell ten of their friends. That was before the internet, smartphones and social media.

In today’s instant-access, multimedia environment, one unhappy client can reach literally thousands of people, sending their complaint about your company viral. Sadly, negative comments seem to be more contagious than positive ones. You’ve probably seen video clips where customer service personnel aggravated situations by their rudeness; by not listening and not resolving the complaint.

Insensitive lingerie and workout wear retailers may always regret the way they respond to customer’s concerns about style and fit. Just take a look at some of the controversy Lululemon generated after the company’s CEO suggested unhappy consumers were probably just too fat to wear their clothes.

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Headlines from around the internet after comments by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. (Image Source)

As you might imagine, those comments were widely posted on-line. There’s no un-ringing the negative publicity bell.

That’s why it is critical that you use your interactions with unhappy customers as an opportunity to turn them around. Unresolved complaints tend to escalate. They get posted to social media pages and more and more unhappy customers join the conversation. The louder the conversation gets, the more the negative sentiment towards your brand will spread to other people in your target market. By providing good customer service and making customers feel heard you can minimize your negative publicity.

4. Build a Positive Reputation.

On the flip side, an unhappy customer that’s transformed into a delighted one becomes even more loyal than a satisfied customer. In other words, we are even more satisfied when we’ve had a problem and it’s been satisfactorily handled than if we never had the problem to begin with. Better still, when a disgruntled client receives stellar customer service they are more likely to tell their friends, in part, because it casts them in such a positive light.

Nordstrom’s built a reputation for exceedingly excellent service, especially the way they process customer returns. Store managers are given wide discretion on how they implement the company’s generous return strategy – supposedly even accepting tires at one store, a product Nordstrom’s doesn’t carry! The story, one of many, spread like wildfire and helped cultivate the Nordstrom brand of individual attention and superior, over-the-top service.

Zappos is another company that has legendary status when it comes to its customer service. Their devotion to providing quality service and listening to consumers has paid off in dividends. They have a legion of fans who can’t wait to spread the word about how outstanding their services are (free advertising) and 75% of their purchases come from repeat customers!

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When you delight your customers by resolving their issues and then exceeding their expectations (see the second tip) your customers will be motivated and excited to share the story. Again, everyone is happy to spread the word about how special and important they are that a company went out of their way to help them. Customers will post their positive experiences to social media which your company can then re-post. There’s nothing like unsolicited, positive, authentic customer testimonials to improve your brand image.

Remember, every initially combative or irate customer contact gives you an opportunity to forge a lasting positive relationship.

5. Seize the Opportunity for Improvement.

Once you conclude your conversation with your now converted, happy customer, your work is not over. Remember those detailed notes you took during your call? Unhappy customers are an invaluable resource for providing honest information about your business, information you need if you want to improve and stand out from your competition.

Each complaint is like having a covert operative working undercover to point out potential problems. The old adage, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies to your business. If one unhappy customer tells you about a problem, how many more have experienced a similar issue and just haven’t called?

By attending to each individual complaint, you can nip potential problems in the bud. Or, if there is a more systemic problem in play, you can address it before it gets any worse. Common customer issues can reveal where your business needs work, and give you direction so that you can continually build a better product or service. By incorporating complaints as feedback for improving your business, you will help even more customers.

Most customers will accept the occasional human or system error. How your company responds to those errors is what distinguishes you from your competitors. It’s easier than ever for customers to publicly share their experiences, and the way you respond to unhappy customers will determine what they say about you afterward.

By truly listening to your unhappy customers you can generate the most pleasant outcome possible. Better yet, you can turn an experience with an unhappy customer into an opportunity to drive profitable change and growth for your business. You now know every complaint is your opportunity to minimize future negative publicity and convert an unhappy customer into a devoted and loyal fan who will spread the word about your superior service.

So the next time you have an unhappy customer on your hands, you can smile and say warmly, “Thank you for reaching out,” and mean it.

About the Author: Josh Brown is part of the marketing team at Soldsie, a social-selling platform that enables retailers to sell their items over social channels like Facebook and Instagram. You can follow Soldsie on Twitter or Facebook.

  1. Very useful article for all the business people to make their customers happy. Success of every business depends on customers and maintaining a good relationship with them. Every businessperson must follow these ways to achieve good results.

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