Retaining Customers After a Negative Experience

Customer Thermometerby Lindsay Willott

If a customer has a bad experience with your business, does it mean they will immediately leave you?

It’s common wisdom that a problem with your product, a delay in your delivery, an employee with a ‘challenging’ demeanor, and myriad other factors can easily make your customers forget everything you have done to please them. But did you know that customers are often more loyal to your business after they have experienced a service failure, than if it had never happened in the first place?

Instead of accepting a customer is going to leave, it’s important to seek to convert as many of your failures into successes as possible. Even if they do ultimately leave after all your efforts, you’ll still find out a great deal about how to stop future issues from happening if you seek to find out as much as possible from the unhappy customer in question.

Companies with the best customer service understand the paradox: Customers who recover from a service failure are often more loyal than customers who have not experienced a service failure at all.

Here are some tactics that can help you with your customer retention strategy even after a bad experience:

Determine Exactly What Happened

Customers should be actively encouraged to tell you how they feel about your business. If you show an interest in their complaint, ask for specific detail, and talk it through with them, you’re already halfway to turning them around. It’s time to start thinking about what kind of powerful corrective actions you could take if you could understand how every one of your customers felt.

What a customer deems to be a “bad experience” can vary hugely. Some customers are extremely sensitive to certain issues and others are not. Thus, a highly prescriptive approach to complaint handling can often lead your business to handle feedback in entirely the wrong way.

Until you know exactly went wrong between your business and the individual customer and why they feel the way they do about the situation, it is impossible to create a lasting fix. Once you have gotten to the bottom of the issue, make sure that knowledge is shared internally with your team. This sharing should not be meant to blame anyone, but to improve the team as a whole and learn from the experience.Customer Thermometer

Admit Fault

One of the biggest errors in customer relationship management is not admitting the mistake. Nothing annoys customers more than having an issue and the company refuses to even entertain a discussion about it. When an error is brought to a company’s attention, it needs to be admitted and discussed. This will give the customer a message that you have taken control of the whole scenario, and are empowered to fix it.


Simple but overlooked. Along the same lines of admitting there’s a problem, you also need to take responsibility and apologize. Often this is all customers want to hear and it can be extremely disarming. In combination with a plan to solve their issues, an apology can be one of the most powerful tools in your customer retention armory.

Take Immediate Action

Don’t wait, don’t prevaricate, and don’t argue. Empower as many people as possible within your business to do the same. Once you know there’s a problem, have admitted fault and apologized, take steps to try and resolve the issue.

Analyze your customer processes – do refunds take an age to process? Is your return or refund process itself really arduous? The longer a difficult situation with a customer drags on, the more likely you are to lose them for good. Seek to take the swiftest possible action to rectify things for your customers and they will appreciate your focus and your efficiency.

The world’s best businesses not only know that everyone makes mistakes, they actively plan for such. Be they luxury hotels, top end brands or airline carriers, they plan for failure.  On the rare occasion something does go wrong, the differentiating factor is they do something about it immediately, often without being asked or without the customer even having to complain.

The biggest issue with the tips above is that so many customers don’t bother complaining. Research shows that ninety-six percent of customers who have had an issue walk away without ever saying a word to the company. Reaching out to customers to find out how you did can save you plenty of headaches in the future. Encouraging your staff to ask questions and embedding a short survey or feedback mechanism into your communications will help you gather more feedback. Only after having accurate knowledge of what kind of feelings the bad experience has invoked in the minds and hearts of customers, you can take corrective measures and plan out a scheme that can build customer loyalty or regain the trust you lost.

Mastering customer retention, even after a negative experience, is key to thriving in any business. Not only because it shows that you care about the people you do business with, but because it has a multiplying effect. The more loyal your clients are, the easier it will become to get new ones through word of mouth. Having an established customer base will benefit you in the short run and in the long.  Start your retention strategy today, make your customers happy, and keep building a fantastic business.

Remember, customers who are treated well during a hiccup won’t abandon you. Treat customers well throughout your service recovery process and they may well turn into some of your best advocates.