How Your Small Business Can Profit from Your Unhappy Customers

As small business owners it is easy to find ourselves obsessing about customer satisfaction and positive brand awareness. After all, the opinions that customers form about our products and services can significantly impact sales. We hear from experts (and tell ourselves) that these good vibes are all the more crucial now that businesses from all walks of life are increasingly being tied to and reliant upon the Internet 2.0 to drive consumer interest, traffic, and conversions.

 Dealing with upset customers

For this reason, when we are faced with unhappy customers, it can be even harder not to give in to a knee-jerk, internal wince and either rush to make things better or defend our stance… and our name. But in both scenarios, we can easily let a valuable opportunity go by.

Whenever there is pressure or resistance that is where there is real growth. If you never experience that resistance, and if you never experience the outcome of a mistake, then you won’t go nearly as far. Just ignoring the negative messages that are coming at you- especially if they are coming from several different sources- can be detrimental to your business.

Realize this… Not all your happy customers will give you feedback, and if their experience was merely average then it is even less likely. Just consider the percentage of customers who take the time to leave reviews on location-based social services, such as Yelp, City Search, Google + Local, etc. It’s pretty small compared to the actual number of customers served.

But, many of your unhappy customers will go out of their way to let you know they are dissatisfied. They’ve got a bone to pick with you or your business, and they may not drop it so readily (or at least not so quietly). If at some point you can stop and realize that these people are voluntarily giving you feedback. In other words, you don’t have to go out there and collect it. Then it can change your whole perspective.

As I mentioned above, these people will often put a spotlight on areas in your business that need improvement or tweaking. It may not feel nice to be the target of criticism, especially if some of these people are being blunt and/or offensive, but if they are pointing out a problem that needs to be fixed, then in a certain sense, you should be shaking their hands. Even if you don’t actually do this (and I some cases it’s not appropriate) just having this attitude can make a big difference.

Here are some other ways to capitalize on your unhappy customers that you may not have thought of:

  • You get to test your customer service response. Customer service is easy with a happy customer. The true test is when you are dealing with a customer who is upset.
  • You can generate a positive buzz. If you make an adequate effort to address your customer’s concerns, and yet the customer remains unhappy, then it could encourage satisfied customers to speak up on your behalf. Suddenly, you and your business can become the “underdog” that everyone is routing for.
  • If you manage to turn unhappy customers into happy ones, then they can become even bigger promoters of your business than they would have had they had a more positive experience from the beginning.
  • Being on the receiving end of criticism and other forms of resistance makes you realize what’s important by forcing you to focus inside, to know where to draw the line, and to determine where your priorities are. Maybe you need to learn that some customers are just not meant to be your customers, or maybe you (like most of us) need a reminder that our sense of value should not be dependent on the thoughts of a few

In short, dealing with unhappy customers at some point is an inevitable part of doing business. But they don’t have to send you running the other way. With the right attitude, they can be a driving force for profitable change and growth.