From Complaining Customer to Loyal Customer

Written by Ian Landsman · 02.12.2021

In the moment, getting a customer complaint is the worst.

I mean, nobody wants a customer complaint. That’s not what you hope to achieve when you wake up in the morning.

A customer complaint means someone is unhappy. Something went wrong. Somewhere, your communication, service or product failed to do what you intended or your customer expected.

So no, getting a complaint doesn’t feel all that great. But complaints have tremendous value. The actions you take in response to a complaint can be the building blocks of a long-term relationship.

Here’s how.

The Value of the Complaint

Jay Baer, online customer service speaker and bestselling author, has spent the last few years convincing business professionals to embrace the individuals who are providing feedback, even when that feedback is critical. His advice? “Hug your haters.”


The “haters” – the ones who are vocal enough to let you know how they feel – can teach you about your business, your audiences, and your growth opportunities.

95% of unhappy customers never complain in a form or fashion the business can find. So, the 5% who complain are raising their hands. This gives you the chance to find them, hug them, and keep them… inside every complaint is a kernel (or a whole cob) of truth. Negative feedback is the petri dish of operational improvements. – Jay Baer, “Shorthand” by Duncan Alley.

So that customer support problem that came through? If it’s a problem faced by one customer, it may be faced by 19 more. That concern your customer has? Other customers feel the same way. That big idea offered by your customer? Others think you should do that, too.

So, you should pay attention.

The Short-Term Impacts of a Customer Complaint

The short-term impacts are what we tend to be most concerned about.

The negative Facebook post. The scathing industry review article. The angry Tweet. The frustrated email, phone call or in-person conversation.

We know we should handle those immediately, for a number of reasons:

  • Most importantly, we want the customer to be happy. But also…
  • We don’t want other customers to get turned off by these public complaints
  • We need to show good customer service skills so other potential customers trust us
  • We must handle any factual inaccuracies about our product/service being broadcast
  • We want to protect our reputation among current customers, partners, media, competitors and stakeholders
  • So there’s the short-term scramble to make it better. We rush to hear the customer, and find out the short-term solution to repair the customer relationship. If we’re doing customer service well, we’re listening to the customer and we’re acting urgently to find a solution to the problems they are experiencing.

    It’s been a rough day, a customer was not thrilled with your product – or any of the solutions you came up with to help them. After a few long hours, multiple levels of management involved, and a few freebies, you go home, crack open a beer, and wait to turn the page to a new day.

    But, is that where the impact of that customer complaint ends?

    The Long-Term Impacts of a Customer Complaint

    There is so much to be gained by paying attention to customer complaints.

    As Jay Baer indicates, most people unhappy with your product or service just quietly leave. You never even realize they were unhappy. They’re one-time buyers, and they’re gone.

    The ones that speak up can teach you. They’ll tell you:

    • How your product or service could better help them
    • What your product is missing they need
    • Why your product matters, helping you to craft better messaging about your products or services and better understand who your target audience should be
    • How your systems can be optimized to better serve customers, encouraging repeat purchases and even increasing cross-sell opportunities

    They can tell you a lot, and that’s why “your most valuable customer might be the one who hates you.”

    These vocal complainers? They want to see a solution. They didn’t just walk away, never to be seen or heard from again. They want to see you act on their feedback. And many of them are willing to stick around, if you do.

    70% of companies say it’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire one. – econsultancy

    It’s makes sense to work hard to retain those customers – even the ones who have provided you with negative feedback.

    People like to feel heard, understood and valued. By handing a customer service problem well, you can make sure a temporarily disheartened customer understands you value their business and that you truly have their best interests in mind.

    Making the Transition from Disappointment to Delighted

    Of course, this can only happen if you have the customer service team in place who can help take these angry customers to a happier place.

    Addressing issues in a way that will turn an angry client into an evangelist is not simple, but it can be accomplished. This transformative resolution all depends on four basic principles:

    Immediacy: Don’t wait. Even if there is red tape or a chain of command, acknowledge, comfort and confirm with your buyer that action is being taken. You’re listening, you’ve heard them, you’re taking next steps. You’re getting the right people involved to arrive at a good resolution.

    Collaboration: For a relationship to be established, both parties need to participate. By working together, you can make sure you provide your customer more than your initial brand promise – and they can help you learn more about your product, business or customer base. Together, you help each other, and in turn, future customers down the line.

    Effectiveness: “Solutions” mean you solved the problem. Not you offered something, the customer got tired of the conversation, so they begrudgingly accepted what you said and moved on. Effective customer solution helps remedy the situation, whether the root issue lies with actions of your business or the upset customer.

    Forward Thinking: Everyone is concerned about their own problems right now, in the moment, but effective customer service and strong relationships are built on a culture of listening to and learning from each other. Take each customer service situation and understand how this affects your other clients. What changes can you apply systematically to improve your customer experiences moving forward?

    Of course, give credit where credit’s due. Follow up with a customer and let them know how their situation and feedback led to a change in your process and led to better service for others.

    Make your customer feel like a teammate in the game of providing better service and experiences. You only win if you and your customers have the same goals, passions and commitment, so you must show that you value that commitment.

    Turning a complaint into a positive, loyalty-building situation requires the ability to listen to your customers, learn from them and communicate those improvements both in words and action. Whether the complaints are on a public stage or a private channel, the situations should be treated with equal importance, and they should always be seen as a valuable opportunity to build deeper connections and a smarter, better business.

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    Ian Landsman
    Ian founded HelpSpot in 2005 with the goal of making every interaction with your customers simple and efficient.
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