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Turning Angry Customers into Fans: Tales of Two Businesses

Livid customers may seem like opportunities lost, but address their concerns and they might become your biggest boosters.
June 15, 2016

Many of us have had customers who were less than satisfied. Maybe your first inclination in those situations was to run and hide, hoping the issue would resolve itself. 

But it is possible to turn these customers from raging against your brand to being your biggest fans—while improving your customer service standards along the way.

You Can’t Put a Price on Complaints

You may have sunk a fair amount of cash and sweat equity into building your business, but you can’t put a price on complaints, says Sean Pritchard, co-founder and partner at, a hiring network for military veterans. Their clients can’t find work if their site doesn’t work. Recently, however, Pritchard learned a fast lesson from an unhappy client.

“A large customer recently called to complain that they were no longer getting the number of responses to job postings they used to get,” Pritchard says. “Upon investigation, we realized a recent redesign of the job application page was confusing to some job seekers. We quickly corrected the problem.”

Keep your cool so upset customers have a chance to recover their cool. Don’t succumb to the frustrations of the moment.

—Ken Duval, owner, Duval Roofing

Not only was the customer happy, but quickly fixed a quirk that could have affected other customers as well. In the end, the customer saw application rates return to the strong numbers they had come to expect, and renewed their subscription for another year.

But it’s not just about maintaining client satisfaction. A customer willing to complain can help you fix problems that might be silently costing you business.

How Complaints Might Improve Your Business

Ken Duval of Duval Roofing in Reading, Massachusetts couldn’t keep up with all the phone requests coming in after a hard winter. The company ended up limiting its service area to ensure it could service clients as quickly as possible, but this decision resulted in one customer feeling left out in the cold.

That customer took to Duval Roofing’s Google Plus profile and left a scathing review. Never wanting to leave a customer unsatisfied, Duval realized he needed a better customer service protocol in his company, and not just for emergencies. Duval and his team developed a better priority response system during severe weather, including online forms and a better voice messaging system. The reward? The company noticed an immediate increase in customer satisfaction after it put the system into place.

But how do you thank an angry customer for helping you fix something if you can’t find them?

Duval wasn’t able to reach out to his angry customer because the customer’s name on the Google Plus review was different from his name in the company database. But as luck would have it, Duval got the chance later in the year. A man approached Duval in May, saying he was the customer. They discussed the situation, Duval finally got to apologize in person for the customer service situation, and the customer thanked him for the company’s kind response to his review.

Turning Angry Customers Into Assets

Both business owners shared some of their tips for working with unhappy customers.

Pritchard’s Tips:

  • Treat every angry customer as an opportunity to discover and fix a problem with your business. The angry customer can become a partner in validating the solution.
  • Not every angry customer can be appeased. A customer who is really looking for a completely different business model or solution than the one you offer is not likely going to be happy. Recognize this early in the process and part on as good of terms as possible.

Duval’s Tips:

  • Keep your current customers as a priority before seeking out new business, and make sure that they’re able to contact you in person. Have systems in place, with a channel of communication open, so a frustrated customer can always get through to someone.
  • Keep your cool so upset customers have a chance to recover their cool. Don’t succumb to the frustrations of the moment.

These days, angry customers don’t just disappear. They tell everyone. They complain everywhere. They can prevent others from becoming customers in the first place.

So it could pay a lesson from these two businesses. You might ask your team about two ways you could improve how you deal with customer service inquiries and complaints. From there, consider charting a course of action and create a process that serves both your customers and your company when things don’t quite go as planned. 

Read more articles about customer service.

A version of this article was originally published on June 30, 2015.

Photo: iStock