How Can Retailers Turn Disgruntled Customers Into Happy Ones?

0aaaJennifer Dawson headshot

Retailers have tried for decades to improve customer satisfaction, yet recent Customer Rage surveys indicate that complaint satisfaction is lower today than it was in the late 1970s. Reasons such as the explosion of social networks mean that every unhappy customer reaches an average of 280 others every time they post on social media. Retailers have invested in technology and staff training, yet clearly we need to try harder if we are to convert these customers into loyal ones who recommend rather than criticize our products or services. As noted by the MIT Sloan Management Review, businesses should be encouraging customers to complain, and they should be ready and willing to resolve complaints before word-of-mouth criticism does significant damage.

Retailers Acing Customer Service

Companies like Macy’s have been getting customer service right by dealing with complaints proactively. Macy’s web site, for instance, has a “tell us what you think” section in which clients can quickly leave feedback about three different types of experiences: in-store, online and credit card. It backs up its online chat features with live calls, and customers are attended to 24 hours a day. Complaints are dealt with in minutes, which gives them major credibility with social media users.

Customer Complaints Are Worth Gold

Customer feedback provides valuable insight into what you need to change. By using analytics to discover their main problems with your products or services, you can create a strategy to implement the required changes and make disgruntled customers happy. You may find that you cannot solve the problem with your existing team or structure. If so, you will either need to create a new department/hire more staff to fix the issue, or outsource work if necessary.


Amazon also is on point; CEO Jeff Bezos has always stressed the importance of listening to customer feedback, bringing an empty chair into company meetings to acknowledge ”the customer.” Amazon provides immediate information, connecting with clientele online, but also through built-in tech support on its Kindle Fire HDX. One push of the ”mayday button” and you’re automatically connected to a live customer service professional who can help you out with any technical difficulties.

Investment In Customer Satisfaction Is Key

The number of online consumers who make purchasing decisions based on online reviews is increasing. As many as 88% of customers trust online reviews as much as they would personal recommendations, according to a survey by BrightLocal. This makes sense considering this is essentially what objective online reviews are. To risk 88% of potential sales by allowing bad reviews to go unchecked and unattended can have a big impact on your retail business. Paying due importance to online opinions has an additional bonus: they will increase your visibility and rankings, as per recent Google local SEO algorithms.

The Personal Touch Matters

In addition to quickly addressing and fixing problems with online customers, it is important to attend to them in person or on the phone if possible. This is because live communication can help you really listen to why your customer is unhappy. It also will enable you to be sure that the solution you have proposed is acceptable to your customer.

Treating Customers Kindly

It is human nature to feel a little defensive when a client attacks the quality of a product or service you have worked hard to offer. However, don’t assume that they are purposely being difficult or simply trying to wheedle out a freebie. As many as 94% of customers want to simply be treated with dignity; only 35% felt they had been when they complained, according to the Rage Study. The large majority (more than 80%) of people surveyed also wanted an assurance the problem would not occur again; they wanted to feel that the company was empathetic; and they wished the product or service to be fixed. Many others also wanted the chance to express their anger, to tell their side of the story and to receive an apology.

Customer complaints should be seen as invaluable insight into the changes your company needs to make. Staff should be trained to be patient and understanding with customers, explaining why a problem occurred and ensuring them it will not happen again. Kindness and personal attention also is increasingly valued in an era when scripts all too often replace real language.

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