Disgruntled Customers into Advocates
By Stephen Munday
Wednesday, March 02, 2005; 2:00pm EST
How to Transforming Disgruntled Customers into Your Biggest
�I am writing to complain about the widget I bought from your site
the other day.�
Sell anything and eventually you will be on the receiving end of a
sentence like this. So how do you turn a disgruntled customer not
just into a satisfied one, but � even better - into a powerful
advocate for your business?
1. Don�t get angry, don�t act hurt
Reactions are initially emotional. Particularly if you are in a
small company or you are the owner of the business, you may take a
complaint as criticism � a personal attack.
What do humans do when attacked? We want to fight back and justify
ourselves. We become angry and act hurt. But this is the last thing
you want to do when interacting with your customers � however
difficult they may be sometimes.
So prepare yourself in advance: Read this article and you will know
how to turn these situations around, so make a decision right now to
receive any negative customer feedback in a positive way. As my
mother would say: �Engage brain!�
2. Save the sale
Got your feelings under control? Good. Now you are ready to secure
your primary objective � saving the sale.
Remember: this is a person who has already bought from you. The vast
majority of visitors to your site don�t even do that, so just the
fact that this person has already made a purchase makes them an
instant VIP and their business worth fighting for.
How do you it?
1. Prioritize � Remember this sale is a bird in the hand. Yes,
enquiries from potential customers are important, but remember you
already have this person�s money in the bank. Not potential money �
cold hard cash! So first prioritize the disgruntled customer with a
2. Be respectful � Remember not to get riled. A polite, calm
attitude will go a long way to taking the heat out of the rhetoric.
3. Be informative � Reply thoroughly to every point that has been
made and add any other information you think could be useful.
Misunderstanding or a lack of knowledge rather than a problem with
the product itself is often the real issue. Part of being
informative is also going out of your way to remind the customer
about his or her right to return or replace the product under your
(generous) full satisfaction guarantee. Being up front and positive
about this will go a long way to diffuse any concern the customer
may have about having to wrestle the money out of your hands at some
point in the future.
Apply the above methods and the chances of securing the sale will
But remember that even if you do lose the sale, your positive
approach may well have saved the customer: Part company on good
terms and you retain the potential for future sales and have at
least neutralized a lot of negative word-of-mouth publicity.
3. Sell more!
Now this might sound crazy, but a disgruntled customer is actually a
sales opportunity in disguise. Just think about it for a moment:
Perhaps they are unhappy because they did not get what they wanted
from their initial purchase.
Of course, one way they might choose to solve this problem is by
returning the goods. Your job is to show them there is an
alternative that will be a win-win situation for both parties. Here
are two ways you can do this:
1. Offer a higher-spec / revised spec product.
2. Offer an additional product.
Just remember not to �sell� but to �help�: Show the customer a
solution that will meet their needs. Offer a discount and make it as
painless as possible for the customer to part with more money. At
the same time, always be sure to leave the door open for them to
back out from the existing sale so that they don�t feel pressured.
Follow this simple strategy and they will thank you for helping them
out while you pocket the extra profit.
4. Glean Knowledge
Let�s face it, this particular sale may still sink beneath the waves
before you can rescue it. But all is not lost! Anything you learn
from this experience can pay you back many times over in increased
What do the experiences this customer had tell you about:
- The product itself?
- Your service?
- The information on your site?
- Navigation on your site?
- External factors � such as difficulties with your payment
Be sure to bear in mind the following points to get the most out of
- Don�t assume your customer is just an idiot: If he / she has made
a mistake, it is fairly likely that other people have done and are
doing the same thing.
- Don�t take everything the customer says at face value: For
example, it may appear that the issue is the product itself, but
closer inspection could reveal that your site failed to give them
enough information prior to purchasing, leading to this later
Once you have discerned the problem - solve it! It is costing you
sales right now.
5. Disgruntled customer turned advocate
If you have successfully followed the process outlined above, not
only have you saved the sale, but maybe you have even added to it
and the valuable insights you have collected and acted on are
boosting your revenue right now.
Perhaps you are thinking that it can�t get much better than this.
But there is still the ultimate payback � the icing on the cake:
Turning an unhappy customer into an advocate for your business.
Your positive attitude will often not only secure the sale, but also
win over the customer themselves. In my experience this is
exemplified by the fact that a surprisingly large proportion of the
testimonials I use originated in a negative customer experience.
But far from wanting their money back, these customers are now
encouraging others to part with theirs through their testimonials.
Make this your goal when dealing with a disgruntled customer and all
the heartache along the way will be well worth it in the end.
About the Author
Stephen Munday lives in Japan where he works for Internet Support
(http://www.support.ne.jp/). His latest project is http://www.japanese-name-translation.com,
where you can have your name translated into Japanese kanji or buy a
unique calligraphy scroll as a gift. This article is � Stephen