Three types of unhappy customers

When I started my first in-house position, I learnt that there was a variety of unhappy customers who differ in how they respond and react to a negative experience. I worked for a travel company, but really the responses are applicable to any scenario, and largely there are three types of unhappy customers. Plus, many business advisors say: a happy customer tells three people, an unhappy customer tells three thousand.

There are the customers that will let you know in the moment that they are very unhappy, they’ll complain, loudly, maybe they’ll demand to speak to a manager, maybe they’ll call your customer services team and complain and demand compensation or a replacement. But if you fix it, or make them feel like they’ve been listened to, they’ll return.

Next, there are the customers that may complain quietly in the moment, or perhaps say nothing at all but they’ll instead use one of the most passive, but effective forms of marketing against you: word of mouth. They’ll tell their friends about their experience, they’ll complain on twitter and tag your company, they’ll write a post on Facebook, they’ll take a photo and post on instagram. Or they’ll leave a review on your website or elsewhere that complains about their experience. If they take to social media, your company can probably fix this by offering some kind of compensation and validation. If you don’t reply, they will complain louder, but you can apologise and fix it and these customers will return. If they tell their friends, this is more difficult to fix because it’s usually silent, but still, not too damaging. As long as nothing terrible has happened, of course.

Finally, there are the customers that will probably not complain, or will complain quietly at the time, maybe they’ll post a quiet or loud, unhappy social media post but they will not return to use your service again.

I (generally) fall into this last category. After lots of my friends told me how great Franca Manca was, my boyfriend and I decided to try it. However, we had a rubbish experience, we didn’t say anything and we didn’t complain, but we haven’t returned and don’t believe the hype. This weekend, we went to Pho (not for the first time and full disclosure, I used to work there) but the service and food was rubbish and I’m not sure we will return. After years of working in hospitality, I am overly forgiving, hardly ever complain and always tip, but I am also aware of mistakes that can easily be avoided. Similarly, I have just finished a masters degree, my degree was self funded and cost £8,000 and my experience from start to finish was pretty awful to average. I am considering a PhD at some point but I will not return to that university to do it.

It is this latter category that you have to work hardest to convince to return to your company or service once they’ve had a negative experience. Which is why you need to work hard to make sure you don’t lose them in the first place. I have no real advice on how to stop these customers refusing to return to your service other than make sure you have all of the processes and services in place to stop them getting disgruntled in the first place (easier said than done, I know!).

Obviously ideally, no customer would ever have a negative experience with your company and only have the best things to say, but sometimes things do go wrong, mistakes are made and you can’t please everybody. You can only create a positive apology/fix it process for when things go wrong, ensure your staff are well trained and happy and be aware of your customer segments.

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