What You Can Learn From Your Unhappiest Customers


In 1975, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard University because he badly wanted to start his own company. He has now been consistently named one of the wealthiest and most successful men in the world. He is the definition of a self-starter and someone that any small business owner should certainly look up to. Bill Gates is no doubt a trailblazer for entrepreneurs and we can always use his tricks of the trade.

Bill Gates said, "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning".

This concept, that unhappy customers can be utilized for the good of the future of your company, is especially relevant to small businesses. Here are some tips that you can learn from this quotation.


In order to be successful, your small business must be based off of consumer needs 

Unhappy customers have needs that are somehow not being filled by your product or service. By consumer need, I am referring to a difference between a customer's actual state and his desired state. For example, when a person is hungry that is their actual state. That person's desired state is to be full. You should position your product or service as the best means by which a consumer can get to their desired state. The consumer has a need for food, but the type of food he chooses will depend on his preferences or ideas of what food will best fill his hunger. Your consumer's needs can be for the exact product you offer, but they can also need things such as friendly customer service, simple and easy processes, workers who seem knowledgeable and peace of mind. 



The most effective way to position your company as the best in its field is by generating a lot of positive customer reviews. Ironically, people are more likely to trust regular people like themselves, who don't know a whole lot about your industry. Customers tend to gravitate towards the companies that their parents, friends and relatives use. Building positive connections is very important.



How you should handle an unhappy customer

Unhappy customers can range from slightly annoyed to very, very angry. All stages of the unhappy customer should be treated seriously.

Don't get defensive

When you are approached by a customer who is upset, do not immediately start to explain your actions or your employees. First, listen carefully to what the customer has to say. You should allow the customer to tell his complete story before you make too many comments. While you are listening, remain calm and act sensitively towards the customer, so he knows that you are concerned about the situation.

Spend some time with the customer so that they feel their voice is being heard and so you can better understand what went wrong. If necessary, lead the customer to a more private area so that he feels comfortable speaking freely. Encourage him to be very clear about his dissatisfaction. 


Apologize for your mistakes

Once the customer is finished with his story, you should offer a sincere apology and a brief explanation of what might have been the cause of the problem. Assure the customer that you will be talking to your staff about this issue in order to get it resolved as soon as possible. Offer the customer a refund or a discount for the future. Explain that you wish that you could give more, but your small business has many expenses. Thank the customer for his time and honesty, and tell him that he is helping you improve your company.


Reflect on what could've been changed

Reflect for a few minutes on what was the major issue that upset the customer. Could this be improved by better communication? Could it be improved by better a better employee training process? Was the problem due to missed deadlines? Do you need more workers on staff?


Follow up with your team

You should have frequent meetings with your team to discuss what issues you have run into. This is a great time to ask lower management what happened from their perspective. They may have their own ideas about how to prevent this. Dismiss each meeting with a new customer satisfaction focus or goal.


Follow Up With Each Customer

Most of the time, customers might leave unhappy, but do not say a word about it to you. This is dangerous because they can spread negative criticism about your company, and you may not have any idea what they were upset about, which makes it difficult for you to improve. That is why I believe that it is important to follow up with every customer.

One easy way to do this is through an email survey. After you finish up with a customer, send them a quick and easy survey asking them what they thought of your service. This allows the customer to express their concerns and opinions anonymously. They are more likely to say their honest opinions in this low-pressure environment. 


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