How to Turn Unhappy Customers into Online Advocates

April 18, 2018 Social Influence 2 comments

Unhappy to Happy Customer

“Customer service is the new marketing” – Gary Vaynerchuk 

What should you do when you receive a nasty email or Facebook complaint? Should you ignore it, defend your business robustly, or respond genuinely with the aim to help?

Well, according to content marketing supremo Jay Baer (author of Youtility), the best way to handle your online and offline critics is to “answer every complaint, in every channel, every time.”

His new book Hug Your Haters alarmingly revealed that while 80 percent of businesses believe that they deliver superior customer service, only 8 percent of customers think so. In fact, customer satisfaction among complainers hasn’t improved since the 1970s!

Now don’t retreat in surrender. Instead, you should view this wide gap between perception and reality as an excellent opportunity to differentiate your business, considering how important Customer Experience Management (CXM) will be in 2017 and beyond.

As Jay Baer himself has said…

“Haters are not your problem…. Ignoring them is.” – Jay Baer

Why Answering Complaints Matters

First, you should understand that hugging your haters makes a lot of sense. While our immediate reaction is to recoil from negative feedback, bravely doing so provides four benefits:

  1. It helps you to turn unhappy customers into neutral or positive customers
  2. It turns unhappy customers into brand advocates
  3. It helps you to garner customer insights and intelligence
  4. It differentiates you from your competitors

[Best Practice] Fresh Brothers Pizza

In the book, Baer cited how Fresh Brothers Pizza commits to answering every single Yelp review, be it good or bad. By doing so, 12 out of 13 stores in the pizza chain maintained a four- out of five-star average review on Yelp.

Here’s an example of how Fresh Brothers Pizza responded to a stinging one-star review from Ray S. from Los Angeles, which went like this:

“Cardboard!! Think Cardboard with cheese. That’s about it!

When they say toppings, they are non-existent. Maybe the others writing reviews don’t know what great pizza taste like but this is not. No toppings what so ever! What a disappointment.

We also tried some appetizers. They were cheap frozen ones you find in a cheap grocery store. We totally overpaid for not good food.

As far as the employees, they acted like we bothered them when we asked questions and ordered. My boyfriend simply asked a delivery girl a question and she rudely dismissed him like she was bothered. No one was welcoming.

This place was not good. Maybe if you want something better than frozen.”

Debbie Goldberg, the business owner of Fresh Brothers Pizza, handled the complaint with much aplomb…

“Hi Ray – I’m really sorry that you had this experience when you visited in March. We’ve made some changes in the store and I think the environment has really changed for the better. Would you consider trying us again? I’d like to send you a gift certificate so you can try us, on us! If you’d like to take me up on my offer, please send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send it out. Thank you. [email protected]

Debbie’s response was considered perfect as she acknowledges the issue, apologises, and provides a remedy. This provides a good template for your replies.

Where Customer Complaints Happen

According to Baer’s research, there are two main types of haters. These complainers differ in their demographics, use of technology, and how and where they choose to complain.

#1 Offstage Haters: Emails and Telephone

These offline complainers usually address companies in private, one-to-one channels like telephone calls, emails or face-to-face meetings. They are usually “less strident and outlandish” than the public complainers who take their case to social media and review websites.

Most offstage haters tend to be older, less mobile and technology savvy, and complain less often. Forming the majority of complainers, these unhappy customers want an answer from your business.

#2 Onstage Haters: Social Media and Review Websites

What about onstage (or online) haters?

This second group of unhappy customers always complain first in a public venue like Facebook or Twitter, review sites, discussion boards, or forums. They are usually younger, and more mobile and social media savvy.

Onstage haters also tend to complain more often, and are often seeking an audience. When your disgruntled customers are repeatedly ignored offstage, they may bring their complaints onstage. By then, your “customer services becomes a spectator sport”.

 [Infographic] The Hatrix

To learn more about types of haters and their characteristics, do check out this wonderful infographic called The Hatrix developed by Baer and his team.

Courtesy of

How to Respond to Customer Complaints

Now that you’ve learned about the two different types of haters, your next job is to respond to them. Here, there are two handy pneumonics created by Baer for you to consider.

 #1 Embrace Offstage Haters in H-O-U-R-S

When dealing with a complaint sent via email or through the phone, you should consider these five points:

  • Be Human: Yes, haters certainly have feelings, and demonstrating empathy can go a long way here.
  • Use One channel: This should be the same channel which they approached you by. Don’t make them switch – they hate it!
  • Unify your data: There are lots of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems out there which you can use.
  • …and Resolve the issue: Listening isn’t enough; you actually need to dom something about it.
  • …with Speed: As only 61 percent of complainers are satisfied with email response time, it makes sense for you to nip their issue in the bud asap.

#2 Hug Onstage Haters without F-E-A-R-S

As you’d imagine, it would be more difficult to manage unhappy customers online given the multitude of channels. Here’s the five point guide:

  • Find all mentions: Use technology and social listening tools like Google alerts, Hootsuite, or to do so
  • Display Empathy: Once again, you need to calm their grievances. This is especially important given the melodramatics which may occur in an online channel.
  • Answer publicly: Remember that online customer service is a spectator sport. Start by being honest and transparent, and be cool.
  • Reply only twice: If you can’t address the issue in two replies, you need to take it offline. Here’s a great example/ template of how to do so:

Complainer: You guys are the absolute worst. I can’t believe you have to guts to accept Singapore currency for your lousy service.

You: We are sorry that you have a bad experience, {name of complainer}. Can you tell me more about what happened, and I will do whatever I can to help?

Complainer: Almost everything is bad. I don’t even know where to begin. Your company is just the worst!

You: I’m sorry once again to hear that you’re unhappy and would like to help if possible. Please contact me via private message if you’d like me to give it a try.

  • Switch channels: This is necessary as the shortened nature of onstage channels make them impossible to fully address a complex complaint. Moreover, you may need sensitive information from the customer and you do not want him or her to expose that information online.

Ready To Cuddle Your Complainers?

Like Jay Baer’s earlier book Youtility, Hug Your Haters provide a good blend of a practical framework with useful case studies.

I love to read how stalwarts of customer service like, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and Fresh Brothers Pizza handled their unhappy customers. By dedicating their resources to providing stellar customer service, these brands are able to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Let me end with the three most important things which Baer wishes to inculcate in his book:

  1. Customer Service is more complicated than ever, but the formula for success is knowable and achievable.
  2. Interacting with your customers, especially when they’re upset, is 100 percent worth the effort.
  3. You need to answer every complaint, in every channel, every time.

What I’ve covered here are just the key points of the book. There is a lot more wisdom in the book – go grab it today at your nearest book store or online here.

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Send a copy of your feedback to BT, the national telephone company.
    a disgrace,they are badly in need of some sort of consumer complaint guidelines.
    Having had numerous occasions where I felt like I had been treated with utter contempt, even though I clearly described my problems with the lack of basic support for my custom!
    I enjoyed reading your post and hopefully it will in some way console and enlighten people who like myself become very disolutioned.
    Thank you.

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