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Turning dissatisfied customers around

The last post put forward the theory that dissatisfied customers become more loyal to a business and brand if — and it’s quite a big ‘if’ — the business can turn them into satisfied customers again. So, how can this be done?

Here are my top ten tips for satisfying the dissatisfied customer:

1. Make it easy to complain
A typical business hears from four per cent of its dissatisfied customers. This leaves a startling 96 per cent who may be dissatisfied but don’t complain. And what happens then? They may decide not to give your business another chance and take their custom elsewhere.

So, making it easier for dissatisfied customers to tell you they’re unhappy also makes it easier for you to do something about it. This could be as simple as printing the customer services contact details on packaging or publishing them on your website.

Clearly, if your products or services are terrible, perhaps you’d do well to address this in the first instance. And yes, if you publish customer service contact details, you’ll need to staff up accordingly. But consider this old marketing truism: it’s several times more expensive — estimates range from five to seven times — to recruit a new customer than to retain an existing one.

Holding on to your existing customers pays in the long-run.

2. Train your staff
Businesses need customers. If you’ve got no customers, you’ve got no business. It really is that simple.

So, just as you’d train your staff on your product and service offering, train them on handling customer complaints. I’d argue that all staff should receive at least some training in this area, regardless of whether they are customer-facing. It helps create the right internal culture which puts customers at the centre of your business.

3. Take time to listen to your customer
Give your customers space and time to complain. This means practicing active listening, confirming and repeating the key points, and asking them to clarify details. Your customers will respect you for it. And when you come to talk, they’ll be more inclined to listen to you.

4. Mind your language
This point is perhaps best illustrated with a story.

A friend bought something from a large high-street retailer, got it home and found that the packaging had been tampered with. Someone had removed and replaced the product. He took it back to the store the next day with the receipt. The sales assistant said that he’d give my friend “the benefit of the doubt” (a direct quote) and grudgingly replaced the product. My friend was incensed.

When speaking with customers, keep your language active and positive. Take ownership of the issue by describing who will be doing what. Don’t resort to passing the complaint off to faceless, nameless back-office staff. Always say what you can do, not what you can’t.

If in doubt, ask the customer themselves what they’d like to happen. Often you’d be surprised. It may not always involve monetary compensation and would be smaller than what you’d have suggested yourself. In this case, there’s scope to exceed the customer’s expectations by offering something more.

5. Apologise
Don’t spend time wrangling with the customer about who was in the right and who was in the wrong. Or start quoting policies and procedures. If something’s gone wrong, apologise and try to fix it quickly.

6. Resolve the problem quickly
Around 90 per cent of unhappy customers will not willing do business with you again. However, 70 per cent of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favour. This jumps to 95 per cent if you resolve the complaint instantly. These stats are attributed to Lee Resources International, a consulting and training firm.

The stats speak for themselves. Wherever possible, resolve the problem quickly.

7. Keep the customer updated
If you can’t resolve the problem quickly, then keep the customer updated as to your progress. It’ll show that you haven’t forgotten them, and create a good impression that you’re taking their complaint seriously.

8. Thank the customer
It may sound counterintuitive to thank someone for complaining. But think back to that four per cent stat above.

A typical business only hears from four per cent of its dissatisfied customers. The customer has actually done you a favour in bringing shortcomings to your attention. You’ve not had to pay for expensive market research or customer focus groups to find this out. And it gives you the opportunity to improve.

9. Learn from the experience
The difference between humans and many other animals is that humans can learn from their mistakes. There’s nothing more depressing than being stuck in a ‘Groundhog Day’ of repeating the same mistakes over and over. So, put in place policies and procedures to regularly review customer complaints/feedback and act on them for the benefit of your business.

10. Remember, you cant win em all
Yes, there are professional complainers out there. And yes, there really is no pleasing some people. You can’t win ‘em all. But if you put customers first and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement within your business, you’ll be winning more of the time.

The happy ending
As I say elsewhere on my website, sadly modern-day customer service is not about customers. Or about service. It’s more about automated switchboards, group mailboxes and stock responses. This seldom ends happily.


I run my business with an ‘old-fashioned’ customer service approach. I answer my own telephone and e-mails. I handle your request personally, not according to a script. You are the customer and I take pride in providing the best possible service to you.

If you think we’d work well together, please contact me.