How to Turn Unhappy Customers Into Brand Advocates

In today’s digital, hyper-connected world, advocacy represents a huge opportunity for businesses. Cultivating brand advocates or brand ambassadors who are excited to share their positive experiences with their social circles can be a truly powerful low-cost, high-return marketing strategy. Though these are mostly a company’s most enthusiastic, happy and engaged customers, unhappy ones can also become brand advocates - however, turning them into loyal promoters might be challenging.

Customer Advocates vs Brand Advocates

A brand advocate should not be confused with a customer advocate. Though both sound similar and are very often used in the same context – they actually mean oppositely different things. A consumer advocate definition states that it’s a person whose job is to protect the rights of customers – particularly, to find out the needs of a company's customers, and to make sure they are provided with what they want. In other words, it’s a person employed by a company to speak out on behalf of its customers’ interests.

A brand advocate (or a brand ambassador) is a person - a customer, an employee or an industry influencer – who actively recommends a brand or a product/ service to other people by sharing positive word-of-mouth that can influence the buying habits of others. Leveraging the power of brand advocates businesses achieve increased exposure, higher reputation value, more social proof, more traffic and referrals.

Why Unhappy Customers Cannot Be Ignored

With social media becoming an inseparable part of most people’s lives, brands cannot afford to ignore unhappy customers as they can easily destroy their image by sharing negative comments that usually snowball very quickly.

The Quantifying the Business Impact of Customer Service report 2018 done by Dimensional Research, found that 76% of consumers share their bad experiences with friends or family, 49% communicate bad experiences through social media, 46% post negative comments on review websites, 39% share with co-workers in person, and only 5% do not tell anybody.

A survey by White House Office of Consumer Affairs also revealed that a dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience, while around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. That is why ignoring unhappy customers might be damaging to a band’s online reputation.

On the other side, 70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor, according to a Lee Resource study. While with the right strategy, you can also turn them into brand ambassadors sharing positive WOM recommendations with their networks. Below is a 5-step guide to follow.

 

5 Steps to Turning Unhappy Customers into Brand Advocates

1. Make an upset customer feel heard

Considering that for every 26 unhappy customers, only 1 will bother to make a formal complaint, complaints are made only by those who actually think it’s worth their time and effort, and who expect a resolution. Above all, though, instead of jumping straight to offering solutions, show some empathy and let a customer feel being listened to, heard and understood. A great deal of care from a service agent is very often enough to change a customer’s negative state of mind and ease their anger. Then thank the customer for sharing the feedback with you. Ask follow-up questions to ensure complete understanding of the issue and the real reason behind a customer’s frustration.

2. Express an apology and mean it

After acknowledging the problem and taking responsibility - even if it wasn’t your company’s fault – apologize for the inconvenience a customer has faced. In fact, a genuine apology is more effective than compensation alone. The Cary School of Business estimated that only 37% of upset customers were satisfied with service recovery when they are offered something of monetary value (e.g., a refund or credit). But when the business added an apology on top of the compensation, satisfaction increased to 74%. You can find some helpful ideas on how to tell customers sorry for being unsatisfied in this article.

3. Provide immediate problem resolution

When dealing with unhappy customers speed of problem resolution is as critical as efficiency. Any delay will only increase a customer’s annoyance, and they are likely to start spreading the word about their negative experience. If a quick solution cannot be provided – inform the customer you are aware of the problem and you are going to do your best to work it out as soon as you can. Promise only what you can deliver to rebuild their trust. Once the issue is fixed, notify the customer right away and let them know that you have taken steps to ensure the same problem won’t occur again in future, either for this customer or for others.

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4. Go the extra mile to delight

After the customer’s issue is resolved, take one step further and go the extra mile to delight. The key is to exceed customers’ expectations and give them more than they thought they were going to get. Even a small gesture of caring and a bit of a personal touch can have a lasting positive impression and change a customer’s perception of a brand. It could be something like throwing a small product or service for free, presenting an exclusive offer, making a replacement or a refund, giving a gift card, offering a discount off a next purchase – or anything else that would be appropriate to the situation, as well as relevant and valuable to that particular customer.

5. Keep the relationship vibrant

A singe positive interaction and turning an angry customer into a happy one by resolving their issue is only the first step. It’s just as essential to maintain vibrant relationships with customers and demonstrate that they are the valuable assets for your business. Reaching out on a regular basis to offer help, sending thank you emails or asking for feedback can greatly improve relationship and encourage brand advocacy. Moreover, if you’ve made some changes or implemented improvements based on a customer’s feedback – follow up and let them know about it. People are always more likely to talk about brands that value their opinions and make them an important part of their strategy.

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