How to Learn from an Unhappy Customer

Nobody wants a customer to leave angry, but turning negative experiences into positives strengthens your business in the long run.
Photo Credit: ATA

Author: Taylor Walston

Retailers and manufacturers strive for happy customers, but in some ways, unhappy customers can be just as valuable. Knowing how to turn a negative experience into a positive one is of paramount importance for your company’s image. When you can prove to an unhappy customer that your business understands them and can fix the problem, your reputation soars. Therefore, you shouldn’t fear unhappy customers because they are not an immediate negative reflection of your company. That only happens if you handle the situation poorly. Here’s how to handle it right.

Make sure you're notifying customers when their items come in to avoid delays. Photo Credit: ATA

Listen to Them

The first thing you should do when encountering an unhappy customer is truly listen to them. It’s one thing to provide canned responses that you think will pacify the customer. It’s quite another to offer personalized solutions and responses to their problems. This applies for both online and in-person interactions. “It’s your customer’s time to express what they’re feeling and experiencing,” Dave Dyson said in the Zendesk Blog.“Take the opportunity to listen and support them through the resolution process.”

For example, if a customer leaves a comment online saying that it took a long time for anyone to help them in the store, note which day they’re referring to and think about whether there was anything going on in your shop that day that caused your staff to become preoccupied. If you know there’s a specific reason for the delay — you were short-staffed, there were a lot of phone calls, a meeting ran over — explain that reason to the customer without making it sound like an excuse. Validate their frustration at the delay and let them know you’ll work on prioritizing customers in-store in the future. That will signal that this doesn’t happen often. If you give a simple apology and immediately offer a discount without any other acknowledgment, it will signal that this happens all the time and you’ve crafted a standard response.

If a customer notes they received something they ordered past the scheduled date, explain whether there was a shipping issue or an issue with the purchasing system, if applicable. This will address their concerns and let other customers know the reason for the negative review. If you can put context to the problem, anyone reading the comments will understand that your shop or company did its best under the circumstances. But if the product sat in your store and accidentally “fell through the cracks” before you let the customer know it arrived, don’t be afraid to admit that. Zendesk suggests directly telling the customer, “You’re right.” Apologize for the delay and explain that it was accidentally overlooked or misplaced. Let them know it won’t happen in the future, that you’ll place items in a more obvious space, leave clearer notes, whatever you’re comfortable sharing. Customers will appreciate honesty. Make sure you follow through and communicate with customers during the order process. Let them know when their order is delayed and make sure you contact them as soon as their order is ready.

Know When to Act

An important step in handling a negative customer experience is determining if there’s an underlying issue that needs to be fixed. If a customer notes that they’re unhappy with your lessons, if they think there should be more time slots or feel they aren’t getting the knowledge they’re expecting, that’s something you should address internally, especially if you’re receiving similar comments. Analyze whether you could add more lessons or if the instructor giving them could benefit from a performance review. Sit in on one of their classes, and if you spot areas that could be improved, talk with the instructor privately about steps they can take to improve their teaching style. Set them on the right path to acquiring a USA Archery Instructor Certification or other resources as needed. Address issues that you know you can, and should, act on.

Provide an explanation if there are any extenuating circumstances. Photo Credit: LiveAgent

Gain Trust

Acknowledging unhappy customers and acting upon their concerns when appropriate will gain trust among your customers. An unhappy customer’s concerns and comments could ultimately help your business in the long run. If someone notes that your store layout is difficult to navigate, take a look around and see if there’s any way you can organize more efficiently. What one person notices could be reflective of other customers’ concerns. Admitting when something was your shop’s error, but also knowing when to explain that it wasn’t, will demonstrate accountability and present a professional image. That you listened, responded and handled a customer’s problem will say more about your business than a negative review ever could.

Questions? Contact Nicole Nash, senior manager of outreach, at (507) 233-8146 or

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