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Transforming Disgruntled Customers into Your Biggest Advocates

“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 speedy response.

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 increase tremendously.

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 future revenue.

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 provider?

Be sure to bear in mind the following points to get the most out of these questions:

- 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 disappointment.

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: About the Author

Stephen Munday lives in Japan where he works for Internet Support ( His latest project is, where you can have your name translated into Japanese kanji or buy a unique calligraphy scroll as a gift. This article is © Stephen Munday, 2005.

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