How to Turn an Unhappy Customer Into a Brand Advocate

Hanne   33

Updated on December 22, 2019

Your business is your baby and just like it's a no-no to call a parent's baby ugly, it should be forbidden to give negative feedback online...

At least that’s how any business owner feels when some stranger calls their business ugly with a bad review.

Today it’s easier than ever to vent about a negative experience online and sooner or later, as a business owner, you’ll be confronted with this.

The way you react to that feedback can make the difference between a business with a solid reputation or no business at all.

In this article you’ll discover the 3 errors to avoid at all costs and a framework for reacting to negative feedback. As you'll see, a negative comment can be a terrific way to improve your business if you know how to deal with it...


Unhappy Customer VS. Troll

Don't feed the troll...

Haters gonna hate. Trolls gonna troll. There's absolutely no reason to accept someone using your Facebook page, YouTube channel or website for trolling.

The difference between a troll message and a message from an unhappy customer is that the troll message has no substance. It’s simply there to upset you and discredit your business. It exists for the sole purpose to get under your skin and elicit a response.

Would you accept someone entering your house and insulting you without any reason?


Same holds for internet trolling and insults. There is no reason to try to understand or interact with these people. Never feed the trolls. Delete the comment and move on.

One fair warning: don't delete comments unless you're 100% certain it comes from a troll. As you’ll soon discover, deleting “real” feedback can cause a lot of trouble...

Negative Feedback? Do a Happy Dance!

It’s 11 PM and for the 6th night in a row, my upstairs neighbor decides to put on opera music. And when I’m in my bedroom trying to sleep, Pavarotti might as well be using my bed as his conductor stand.

I didn’t want to be an annoying neighbor, but I really had to get some sleep because I had an early meeting the next morning...

So I got out of bed, put on clothes, and dragged myself up the stairs to beg my neighbor to turn down the volume.

As soon as he opened the door and recognized me, he apologizes and promises to turn down the music.

He simply didn’t realize I could hear it…

As soon as he became aware of the problem he fixed it and I never had music interrupt my sleep again.

All it took was me getting out of bed that one night and letting him know about it...

Studies have shown that a business typically only hears from 4% of unsatisfied customers.

That means that the vast majority of your unhappy customers will never tell you about it but simply move on and never buy from you again.

That’s why you should be thankful for negative feedback. It gives you an opportunity to improve.

Just like my neighbor not realizing his music was keeping me from sleeping, you might not realize that some parts of your business are not optimal for your customers.

Valuable negative feedback: the client would love mp3 format and listen on USB

A customer who leaves you negative feedback is someone who is so disappointed that they take the time out of their busy schedule to let you know about it.

These aren't people who don’t really care about you or your business. These are people who had high expectations that weren’t met.

Often, negative feedback comes from a very emotional state and you’ll soon discover how you can turn a negative experience into a positive one.

But first, let’s take a look at the worst reactions to negative feedback…

Avoid These 3 Errors at All Costs When Dealing With Unhappy Clients

Don’t get me wrong, the fact that negative feedback is an opportunity to improve doesn’t make it fun to receive.

When we read something negative about ourselves or our business, our first reaction is anger. Quickly followed by a defense mechanism that wants to explain all the reasons why the customer is dead wrong.

And it doesn’t help either that our brain is wired to retain negative critisism much longer than compliments which can make you feel really crappy and blur good judgement.

All of the above can lead to one of the following 3 disastrous reactions…

Reaction 1: Delete the Negative Feedback

Deleting negative feedback will only make things worse...

Makers of the game Fur-Fun were so unpleased with negative Youtube video reviews that they used the copyright infringement claims to get the videos taken down…This spurred a whole new discussion on social media and even more negative exposure for the company (further proof: I’m writing about them in this article).

When a customer is unsatisfied and leaves a negative review, what they are really looking for is recognition of their problem… Deleting the feedback is just about the worst reaction to the situation.

Reaction 2: Insult Your Customer

Ignoring your customer is the worst thing you can do. The second worst is to…tell your customer to go f*** themselves.

Restaurant owner losing his calm, good manners and many many more customers.

No matter how bad or unfair the review is, it’s never a reason to insult your customers. Period!

Reaction 3: Use Canned Responses

Are you using automatic answers on social media? Watch out...Your bot might cause your business more harm than good.

AmericanAir's automatic response to the word "congrats"...

The AmericanAir example is quite extreme, but even without going that far into automation make sure to take time to write a proper, personalized response.

If your customer has the feeling you simply copy pasted a canned response he will feel ignored (and rightfully so) which can add gasoline to the fire of the whole situation.

Now that we’ve seen the worst, let’s look at the right way to react to negative feedback and turn the situation around.

Give Your Customer a LATTE

LATTE is the acronym Starbucks uses to teach their baristas how to handle an unhappy customer.

It stands for:

Listen to your customer’s complaint

Acknowledge the problem

Thank the customer for communicating and letting you know about it

Treat the problem

Explain how you’ll treat the problem

Applying LATTE for customer support

Hayneedle is applying LATTE in the above comment. They listen to the customer and react promptly. They acknowledge this is a real problem and thank the customer for letting them know about it. Then they tell the customer how they will treat the problem (by looking up the information) and they treat the problem in private.

Honda dealership applying LATTE to answer an unhappy customer

This Honda dealership is also doing it right. They respond to the comment with a sincere apology, trying to understand the situation and getting it sorted out.

Compassion goes a long way when dealing with complaints.

This example of Sainsbury’s shows that compassion and some humour goes a long way. Lily, a 3 and a half year old thought that tiger bread looked more like giraffe bread.

Chris, the 27 and ⅓ year old customer manager, applied the exact LATTE strategy to answer to Lily’s letter.

He thanks her for writing the letter, acknowledged that the bread did look more like a giraffe than a tiger, he explained why it was called this way and gave her a £3 voucher for a bread and some candy.

Lily’s mom posted the letter on her blog and it went viral.

Sainsbury’s saw an opportunity to do something fun for their customers and officially changed the name of the tiger bread into giraffe bread.

This one customer complaint turned out to be a huge win for Sainsbury’s.

From unhappy Thrive Themes customer to fan and brand advocate

The right reaction to a negative feedback or a problem can not only turn the situation around, but handled correctly an unhappy customer can become a repeat customer, a fan and a brand advocate who tells all his friends about how amazing your customer service is.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you had negative feedback that you managed to learn from? Or maybe you got a funny troll comment? Let us know in the comments below!

Reacting properly to negative feedback is important, but you should also pro-actively ask for testimonials from happy customers!

Sign up for our free ecourse: How to Harvest the power of Testimonials to Boost Conversions

You'll discover:

  • The exact questions to ask to get good testimonials.
  • 10 Places where you should display them to boost conversions 
  • How to set up a system to get testimonials on auto-pilot.

by Hanne  May 17, 2017


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Leave a Comment

  • Love this! Occasionally I get a wild hair and write directly to a company when I’m dissatisfied. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything other than a gracious reply. The side benefit of replying graciously is it makes the ungracious complainer feel sheepish. 😉

  • Yeah, that sounds good, but Thrive could use some more support help, because I’ve had several (simple questions) that either never were responded to our died on the vine waiting for additional information to help a new user. After speak with other users this seems to be a “theme” of Thrive, waiting days or weeks for follow ups. I’ve had to hire outside help to answer and get support for your products. Maybe it’s a growth issue, but your products are buggy and support is non-existent, so not sure what I’m paying an annual membership for anyway.
    P.s. All the answers are not listed in the FAQ’s.

    • Hi John,
      I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience with our support team. I can assure you we do everything to help our customers and no tickets stay unanswered and the response time is on average a couple of hours.
      From what I can see there has been some back and forth on the support ticket to get access which I understand can be frustrating, but is necessary for our technical team to investigate.
      Since your last communication was over 2 weeks ago, I hope the problem is fixed now.
      If you’re still experiencing trouble, the ticket is still open and we will help you find the solution!

    • It wasn’t like this before. I’m a Thrive client since 3 years now and I have noticed that thy’re taking much longer to respond to support thread lately. I don’t know why that is tho.

      • Hi Maricarmen,
        Sorry to hear that support has been slower for you than it was before.
        We are working on improving the reaction time and are testing new ways to offer customer support so I hope this will be resolved in the future 🙂

  • Hi Hanne, what do you do when a customer writes a review about an incident that just isn’t true? One of my clients had this issue where her customer wrote something that simply didn’t happen. We think it’s because her customer hasn’t paid in three months, and she gave him notice: don’t pay and I won’t be able to provide you service any longer. He got mad and wrote a negative review about her business.

    Should she respond by clarifying exactly what happened?
    BTW, idea for Thrive – I have no idea how to use even 20% of the Thrive products I’ve bought. Your onboarding process needs to be a bit better. Thrive U is great, but I already have too many courses that I haven’t yet gone through on my computer. All I want is a series of quick set up – win, set up – win. Based on my 80/20. Great blog post by the way!

    • Hi Neesha,

      IMO it is not fair to tell lies online so I would react without blaming the customer or using the not paying story but by asking specific questions.
      Something like “I can not recall this happening, can you please give me more specifics so that I can investigate this matter further”

      And I completely agree on the onboarding! It’s something we’re trying to improve (constantly as we add more products)

      What are you currently trying to accomplish?

  • A few years ago, my wife tried to book me a falconry session with a center in the UK (where I’m from originally). Since we were in Alaska (where I live now) she emailed them asking if we needed to book ahead for the sessions. Unfortunately, they either didn’t get the email, or it accidentally went unanswered. But, since we were booked to stay in the area anyway, we dropped in on the morning we’d been planning to do the bird handling session.
    On arrival, we were told that we needed to book ahead for the session I wanted and that they wouldn’t be able to fit us in for the same day. However, if we wanted to do a different session in the afternoon, we were welcome to join another couple in their session.
    I was disappointed not to get the session I planned, but at least they were trying to find a solution. However, we had plans for the afternoon, which involved a museum visit and driving to York, on the other side of the country, so I was going to decline the offer…
    My wife convinced me to change the plans, and do the museum in the morning instead, and the falconry center gave us their phone number in case we needed help navigating back out of Manchester. Needless to say, we did the museum and had trouble getting back out of the city, due to poor signage… And the falconry center staff knew exactly where we were when called, navigated us back there, and delayed the session until we arrived…
    When the session was over, they asked us to hang around until the other couple had left, because they were going to bring some of their other birds out for flying time, and we were invited to join them.
    Now, I’ve flown every kind of raptor (bird of prey) from little owls up to the large hawks… But they had something in mind I could never have dreamed of… They let me handle and fly two of their eagles, which is something they rarely allow the public to do…
    Needless to say, I’ve not stopped talking about that day, or found a better way to turn a disappointed potential customer into a life-long advocate.

  • It was interesting to learn that only 4% of customers actually comment about their negative experience. This is great to know.

    • Hi Don, yeah that’s very few… I think most people don’t “care” enough. They had a bad experience and just decide not to go back or purchase again.

  • Great post Hanne! Thank you! 🙂 I worked for Nordstrom for a number of years and we were taught these exact principles… it certainly is good for business!

    • Hi Sarah,

      Good to know! I guess all big stores have some kind of process in place to handle customer support.

  • Hanne,

    Thanks for the wonderful article! I love how easy and simple you explained the way to deal when a customer (I include here a subscriber, too). It made me realise that we could draw so much more from the negative feedback and the person behind than I thought. So, I am reconsidering now a feedback on my free offer I had awhile ago, and the fact that probably so many other readers just move on and didn’t bother to tell me about it… (a good news so far is probably that I don’t have lots of unsubscribers).

    Well, your article made me rethink all that and I’ve learned I need to listen more and act on it to improve!

    Thanks for the post and the great guidelines!


    • Hi Mariana,

      That’s great to hear!
      I’m convinced that that’s the right attitude. It’s never fun to hear if someone was disappointed (even a subscriber because they trusted you with their email).
      Now that you know that, you can step up your game 🙂

  • “Negative” feedback certainly helped me improve my workshops – by giving students less theory and more in-class practice time.

    If I could give a 10 STAR rating for thrive themes customer service, I would!!! You guys simply have the BEST customer focus of any wordpress plugin I’ve ever dealt with. The very best LATTE’s around 😉

  • Hey Hanne, loved your article! Very instructive. I’ve been monitoring customer feedback for 20 years and been serving quite a few LATTEs 🙂

    Thanks for the read.

  • Thanks Hanne, a good reminder about LATTE.

    Never had problems with Thrive customer support but you’ve a great opportunity to apply LATTE with the writer of the second comment above!

  • I had to complaints responded too very well. the first company I had an email and a phone call from customer service to apologise for the inconvenince and gave me vouchers for two products to make up for it. “nd was a delayed railway journey i completed the form. Received a letter and told exactly how the refund was going to be paid back. i believe that if you don’t tell companies when things go wrong how will they know. if they believe in learning from mistakes they will do something about it.

  • I had not heard of the LATTE acronym. Great one! 🙂

    Now for feedback (not necessarily a complaint, yet.)

    Thrive Themes is studly. Amazing. Tons of new features all the time that simply can’t be ignored…

    But… I know a LOT of your customers are asking for more help with responsiveness. I keep seeing an answer of “everything is responsive”, but your biggest WYSIWYG competitor is making it *easy* to choose your own sizes (of nearly everything, from max-width to padding to margins, including px, em, or %), with 3 separate options (desktop/tablet/mobile).

    You guys are better than the other one. There is no question. But they’re killing you guys on this topic.

    I genuinely hope this helps. 🙂 Have an awesome day!

    • Hi Jeremy,

      Thanks for your comment and feedback 🙂 And this is something we are aware of and working hard on improving in TCB 2.0!

      • Sounds great. I’m looking forward to it! (And by the way, your videos are getting better and better!) 😀

  • I see this a lot, surprisingly from bloggers and webmasters. When searching for reviews for a particular WordPress plugin, most of us will ultimately end up over on the plugin repository.

    Just reading some of the complaints and reviews and how they are put across by so called ‘business owners’ its hardly surprising that they treat their customers with the same contempt.

    Conversely, take a look at the replies and support given by the majority of developers of those plugins and its a free education on how the ‘Latte’ should be done.

    It can be quite funny reading the review of an irate user who swears that the world has ended and calls for the beheading of the developer (who has usually provided and supports this free plugin), only to find that they simply have a minor conflict with another plugin or their issue has absolutely nothing to do with the plugin.

    It’s an education on how frustrated people can get who then engage mouth before brain.

    • Definitely true 🙂 But then again, the user only acts out of frustration (clearly in the wrong way) but the struggle is real. Answering in an appropriate way will help to diffuse that frustration.

  • I wrote a blog post for my target market – adults with adhd. It was about partnership and what adults with adhd wish from their partners. The resonance of my customers was amazing. But in the comments section several partners give room to their anger about the adhd-partners and they complain about them and whay I write such an article only from the one perspective and not also from the partner’s perspective.
    I don’t really know how to deal with this.
    Any suggestions?

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