5 ways to turn an unhappy customer into a brand ambassador


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January 5, 2018

When you’re looking to grow your business, it’s easy to only focus on happy customers. After all, they’re the ones that will shout your name from the rooftops. It’s only a happy customer who will become a loyal brand ambassador for your business. Or is it?


Spare a thought for those customers who didn’t quite make it to the ‘happy’ stage first time around. Believe it or not, unhappy customers have a place in this world, and they too can help you on your journey.


If you’re willing to swallow your pride a little, here are five ways to turn an unhappy customer into a brand ambassador.


1. Deal with negative feedback online


This can have a massive impact on how you are seen in the public eye. We live in a very digital age; customer complaints are seldom heard at point of sale. It’s much easier for an unhappy customer to vent their frustration online, giving them the potential to become a brand slayer, instead of the brand ambassador you’d like them to be. While that’s a crying shame, it is the world we live in.


Conducting social listening with tools like ‘Mention’ or ‘Google Alerts’ are a must, but they will only help you find comments.


It’s how you respond to them that’s so pivotal. When I’m handling a complaint online (and it goes for in person too), I like to stay ‘SAFE’:


S – Speed

A­ – Acknowledge

F – Follow up (privately)

E­ – Energise/Engage


First of all, react in a speedy manner. Never let negative comments linger, because when they linger, they start to fester. Like a bad smell right in your lobby.


When you acknowledge the issue, you have, as my old football coach would say, “let ’em know you’re there”. Without that, they might inflict some further damage by the time you have all the facts to fully respond.


A negative online comment left unattended serves only to feed the ‘sheep mentality’. Others will follow and make a comment too, whether they have the facts or not. So when you swiftly acknowledge a comment, it shows you’re taking responsibility. And you’re much less likely to get a public roasting.


These two things alone might only hold things up for a bit. But consider this. The negative comment acts as a platform for you to prove to the world you’re a listening, caring company. And that, believe it not, is positive for your image, reputation and credibility.


Of course though, you then need to follow up on your reply…


2. Make an unhappy customer feel heard


Remember this; there is little benefit in keeping this communication going online. Often an acknowledgement online is enough to preserve your good reputation, before moving it to a private channel.


We’ve all seen the cafe that posted online their sandwich board with ‘Come and try the worst soup in the world’. But my advice is don’t get cocky. Such positive virality following negative feedback is rare.


And for all we know it might actually be the worst soup in the world.


So with any follow up, do it in a private channel. Get all the facts and when you go back to your customer, be forthcoming and honest. You may not always agree, but that’s fine as long as both parties see it both ways and can come to an amicable understanding.


That’s why, if you can, make a phone call. It’s more personal than email or letter and it will, more often than not, save you (and your company) time.


So how does that help you grow your business? Well, it’s pretty much a given that it’s impossible to please everyone, every time.


So at that stage, it becomes a question of choice. Do you:


a) Ignore unhappy customers and have them telling everyone what a shambles you are?


b) Swiftly acknowledge and follow up. Because even if they’re still unhappy, they will appreciate that you tried. You might even get a second bite at the cherry later. And they won’t try and bring you down online. Oh yes, and they might tell their friends that despite their experience not being great, you did your best to resolve it. See? With a little extra effort, you’re already on your way to turning that customer into a brand ambassador.


(Get where this is going?)


If you follow route a) this might be your stop; farewell and good luck. For those route b) listeners, let’s talk about the ‘E’ in ‘SAFE’.


3. Personalise your communications


Imagine a funnel with new and existing happy customers piling in the top. Anyone missing? Ah yes, unhappy customers. None of them are jumping like lemmings into the top of your funnel. Hmmm.


If you’ve done the SAF in SAFE, you still have a shout, albeit it’s a bit tricky. It will likely take more time than your typical customer acquisition as well.


If you can ‘Engage’ and ‘Energise’ them at a later date having left your relationship on an even­ish keel, there is REAL opportunity here to turn that unhappy customer into a brand ambassador. Let me put it another way. There is nothing more credible than the good word of someone who was, once upon a time, unhappy with you.


BUT, it’s not enough to engage with them through widely used ‘splatter­gun marketing’. You might as well not bother with all that hard work above. Instead of nurturing a potential brand ambassador, you’ll just get unsubscribed instead.


Being personal when you engage with them again is key. I would even acknowledge that it didn’t go so well last time. Your communication will have more impact and show the customer you’re keen to put things right.


(Just, for goodness sake, get it right THIS time…maybe throw a little magic dust on top.)


Don’t expect a 100% success rate. But if you can get a few of these unhappy customers back in the top of your funnel, they are more than worth the effort.


4. Embrace (a few) negative online reviews


When it comes to perception, a few negative online reviews can actually work in your favour.


For example, let’s take a restaurant or hotel. Where might you look for advice? TripAdvisor? Does anyone believe it when they see a restaurant or hotel with 100% positive reviews?


Customers are generally savvy enough to recognise they can’t have a positive experience, 100% of the time. In fact, of the 92% of consumers that read online reviews, 95% of them suspect censorship if they don’t see a bad one. Hardly anyone believes a 5.0 when they see it.


So, while we don’t want negative comments to get out of hand, they do bring balance and added trust to customers seeking out options online.


5. Act upon customer feedback about your products and services


It’s an obvious one, truth be told, but with major importance. Get ready for that pride swallowing we mentioned earlier.


Generally speaking, negative customer feedback is nothing personal. It’s just an opportunity to acknowledge possible failings, and put them right.


Let’s give this some perspective.


The last thing you want:


Win back unhappy customer after solid service recovery. Previously unhappy customer returns for Take Two. Same thing goes wrong.


That won’t end well. Aside from being unhappy (again), you now need to factor in their pride. You’ve earned their trust through adversity, only to let them down again. They’ll feel hurt by that and you’ll have definitely lost any chance of turning that customer into a loyal brand ambassador.


(At this point, go back to number 1, maybe with your tail firmly between your legs.)


It’s important to listen to customer feedback about your products and services. Let customer comments guide you in making vital improvements. While decisions often have to be made in the boardroom or by management, they should at least be led by what your customers tell you they want.


When customers notice you are making improvements based on their feedback or suggestions, you will grow loyalty. Heck, you should even make a point to tell them what you’ve done.


They will see you putting ‘customers’ at the top of your once traditional organisational chart. Your employees will appreciate a customer-­inspired culture, striving to improve the future experience.


And let’s not forget to share any customer praise with your teams. There’s no quicker way to de-­motivate your employees than by thrusting only the negative feedback at them. We’d hope the vast majority of your feedback is positive, so remember, a well-placed ‘thanks’ can go a long way in keeping your staff happy and motivated.


5 ways to turn an unhappy customer into a brand ambassador:

the takeaway


1. Swiftly acknowledge negative feedback (online). This will have a positive impact on your image, reputation and credibility.


2. Follow through on your response (in a private channel). That customer will feel as though they have been heard, saving likely damage to your reputation. It also gives you an opportunity to follow up with them later down the line.


3. If you’ve ticked the above boxes, engage with them later. By building a positive relationship with them, you can energise that unhappy customer into becoming a brand ambassador. The best, when it comes to word of mouth.


(Remember readers, stay ‘SAFE’.)


4. Embrace the negatives. They bring balance and credibility to your online presence, making you a more trusted option.


5. Act upon valuable customer feedback. Make improvements to your products and services, and grow loyalty by letting the customer know you thought it was a great idea. Create a customer­-led culture that your team strives to improve.

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