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How to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates

Before we share the steps on how to turn unhappy customers into a brand advocate, it is crucial to distinguish the difference between customer and brand advocate.

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. However, they actually mean oppositely different things.

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. Moreover, 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.

brand advocate (brand ambassador) can be a customer, an employee, or an industry influencer. This person actively recommends a brand or a product/service to other people. Usually, by sharing positive word-of-mouth, which then influences the buying habits of others. Businesses can achieve; increased exposure, higher reputation value, more social proof, traffic, and referrals by leveraging the power of brand advocates.

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. These customers can easily destroy the brand’s 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
  • only 5% do not tell anybody

A survey by the 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 brand’s online reputation.

On the other side, according to Lee Resource study; 70% of complaining customers will do business with you again if you resolve the complaint in their favor. Moreover, 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

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. However, before jumping straight to offering solutions, show some empathy. Let a customer know, he/she is heard and understood. A great deal of care from an agent is often enough to change a customer’s negative state of mind/anger. After that, thank the customer for sharing the feedback with you. Ask follow-up questions to ensure a complete understanding of the issue and the real reason behind a customer’s frustration.

2. Express an apology and mean it

Acknowledge the problem and take 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 offered something of monetary value. This can be for instance: a refund or credit. But when the business added an apology on top of the compensation, satisfaction increased to 74%.

If you would like to learn some helpful ideas, read How to Apologize and Win Your Customers Over.

3. Provide immediate problem resolution

When dealing with unhappy customers speed of problem resolution is as critical as efficiency. Any delay will only increase the customer’s annoyance. Thus, they are likely to start spreading the word about their negative experience. What if a quick solution cannot be provided? Inform the customer that; you are aware of the problem and you are going to fix it as soon as possible. Promise only what you can deliver to rebuild their trust. Once the issue is fixed, notify the customer right away. Let them know that you have taken steps to ensure the same problem won’t occur again in the future.

4. Go the extra mile to delight

After the agent resolves the customer’s issue, 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/personal touch can have a lasting positive impression and change a customer’s perception of a brand.

For example;

  • product/service for free
  • exclusive offer
  • replacement/refund
  • gift card
  • discount of next purchase

Moreover, 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 single 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 valuable assets for your business.

Reach out on a regular basis to offer help, send thank you emails, or ask for feedback. This can greatly improve the relationship and encourage brand advocacy. Moreover, if you’ve made some changes or implemented improvements based on 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.


So, you have just learned how to handle a difficult customer and how to potentially turn the customer into a brand advocate. However, if you feel like you want to learn more on the topic of the frustrated customer, read;

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