7 Ways to Turn Customer Wrath into Wins for Your Business

8 min read
Apr 12, 2016
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Angry Customer

An angry customer is a business nightmare, right?


An angry customer is a business opportunity.

If you handle your complaints process right, you can transform an angry customer into a brand advocate and a high-value return customer. Marketing professors Michael McCullough and Sundar Bharadwaj talk about something they call the service recovery paradox, which they define as:

The result of a very positive service recovery, causing a level of customer satisfaction and/or customer loyalty even greater than that expected if no service failure had happened.

Your customers come to you to get their problems solved, and a customer with a complaint is handing you a golden opportunity to show how you excel at that.

Here’s how to make that happen.

1. It Isn’t a Complaint, It’s a Concern

Customer complaints are bad. Customer concerns are an opportunity to engage with your customers and learn.

So, always take a customer’s complaint as feedback on your product.

If your customers never express dissatisfaction with your products, how are you ever going to improve them? How will you get rid of defects or bugs that become obvious only with random or erratic usage? What direction will you take with their features? How will you innovate or extend the product line?

Here’s a brilliant example from Sainsbury’s.

A customer didn’t like the chicken in their sandwich and cried out loud. But Sainsbury’s responded with great calm and wit. Further, they subtly hinted that they might consider changing the way they make their chicken if it wasn’t good enough.

Angry Customer Tweet

Think about it this way: a customer has a problem. That’s great, since you can provide the solution! All your customers have a problem they need solved, or they wouldn’t be customers. Your complaining customer just has additional pain points.

For instance, if someone wants a pizza, their problem is that they’re hungry. If they didn’t like the one you’re selling, maybe it’s because they have a keen sense of taste...

All of these “pain points” should be carefully noted.

The problems customers share with you when they’re angry or frustrated are problems that are serious enough to get them to spend time and energy on emails, phone calls, or dedicated chat channels chasing a solution, one that they trust you to deliver.

That data is gold dust!

2. Take Control: You Have an Opportunity, Not an Outcome

Having an angry customer doesn’t mean you have a problem. They’ve come to you, not headed off to social media to let off steam and tell their friends how angry they are. That’s great: it means they still trust you to provide them with the outcome they want. At this point, you have several things working in your favor:

Start by taking the reins and leading. The following steps can help you to convert customer complaints into customer wins.

3. Always Reply, and On Time

Angry people make fast decisions. Leave a customer hanging while you have a coffee with your manager and a think about what to do, and you’re encouraging them to act on their own by complaining to others. That’s your reputation on the other end of the line or in the chat window – grab it by the balls!

A customer care team can choose to line up customer replies in different ways:

Always be on the alert not just on the phone or your regular support ticket system, but also via email, Facebook and Twitter. Facebook even gives you a “Very responsive to messages” badge if you’re absolutely killing it!

Answer quickly and decisively, in a way that lets the customer understand you take their problem seriously. If customers know their problem will be taken seriously if they contact you, they’re less likely to go public.

4. Manage the Process Publicly and the Customer Privately

Many customers with a complaint or concern will seek a business out via live chat. Others will engage in contact through public forums like Twitter or Facebook.

If this were happening in real life, you’d politely ask the angry customer to step away from the public sphere and into a more private setting, like your office. Dealing with customers online is no different. You want to get the customer off your Facebook wall or public forums as fast as possible.

It’s not about trying to silence your customer’s concerns – if they want to leave a bad comment in public, there’s nothing much you can do to stop them. Instead it’s about controlling the process and offering them attention in private, hopefully achieving an outcome that can convert their complaints into praise.

Consider the principal/agent problem: a business owner might never take a customer’s complaints personally, or think their hostility, borne of frustration, is addressed at them personally. Can you say the same for all your chat agents, all the time?

One ill-considered response could ruin your relationship with that customer, horrify other site visitors and even escape into social media.

At the same time there’s an immediate reputation management opportunity here.

If you start by saying something like “We take customer concerns very seriously and have a specific Twitter account / helpdesk / self-service system to help us respond to them as quickly and efficiently as possible,” then the first thing your other customers see of the exchange is that positive, engaged and active message.

That’s good for your brand image.

It’s also good to show that you don’t try to hide negative comments – that can actually increase trust.

5. Embrace Responsibility

Anything your company did or didn’t do is your responsibility. Especially in the eyes of a customer. Don’t dispute that. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault, it matters who’s taking responsibility – and that’s you.

You don’t have to accept fault, but you can say something like “I understand. Let me see what we can do to resolve this for you.”

However, don’t make legally compromising statements. If you think there might be a legal aspect to a customer complaint, be careful about assuming complete responsibility before proper investigations are carried out. Also, get legal advice.

6. Help Them Figure Out What They Want

Hint: the first thing they want is for you to listen to them.

Not talk with them, or “duly note” their complaint, but actively listen. The first problem your customer has is that they have a problem. Their frustration is valid, even if they actually caused the problem themselves through misuse of your product. So accept and listen to their complaint. That’s the first thing they want from you.

Now you know what the problem is, what can you do to rectify it? A customer might have a clear idea of the problem, but delivering a solution?

That’s your job.

Discuss with the customer what can be done to reach a situation where they’re not mollified, but actually pleased. Own their problem and help them with it, just like you do with every other customer.

Even if you wind up out of pocket on an individual customer contact, retaining that customer as a repeat customer who will advocate for your brand is well worth any reasonable additional expenditure.

If you want to be totally cold about it, imagine what you’d spend in marketing to acquire a really good customer and budget for that amount when dealing with irate customers. Offer a menu of potential solutions but keep the number limited and the solutions actionable. Don’t fix it later, fix it now.

7. Don’t Let Them Get Away!

You’ve turned an angry customer with a complaint into a happy customer who’s really pleased with your brand. How do you know? Because they went away? That’s not a great outcome.

You need to follow up and make sure they’re pleased with the solution you’ve provided. You’re checking up on your own performance, not checking up on them, so make that clear.

The best way to do this is via email, which is customers’ preferred communication channel with brands. And it’s private.

Plus, when you feed that customer into the “complaints” track on your CRM, you can use autoresponders, which are time or action-based messages you can send out using your email marketing software, to retain contact with that customer and guide them into your usual drip programs.

Only now, you’re marketing to a customer who’s seen what you’re like when you make mistakes, and still likes you. That’s the beginning of a beautiful, long-lasting friendship!


An angry or frustrated customer still cares about your company enough to pick up the phone, send emails, go on Twitter or Facebook, contact you via live chat, or even write to you in the mail. They’re often your most articulate and committed customers.

Granted, it’s a complaint none of us would want to have, but wouldn’t it be great to have this guy on your side?

Cover photo courtesy of bark via Creative Commons.

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