How To Turn A Bad Customer Experience Around

A bad customer experience can be a nightmare for business owners. Here we take a look at exactly how to deal with unhappy customers.

Maybe they just got some bad news.

Maybe they spilled their coffee and hit all red lights on their way to your business.

Maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, or maybe they're just impossible to please.

Whatever the reason, when you're faced with an unhappy customer, it's an opportunity to improve (even when the customer is completely wrong).

The Customer Is Always Right... Right?

Definitely not, but they don't need to know that...

Think about how you feel when you're on the receiving end of bad business behavior. Say you go to a new restaurant and are left waiting at the hostess stand for five minutes while the hostess flirts with a bartender. Then the waiter gets your order wrong, your food is cold, your bill is inaccurate, etc.

Would you keep quiet about your experience when a friend posts on Facebook, asking if the place is worth trying? Would you be tempted to write a Yelp review to vent and warn others about eating there?

Would you actually go through with writing that review?

When you're a business owner or manager, it's frustrating when people write negative reviews about you online. But think about the customers' side: for right or wrong, they feel they're not getting the experience they deserve. 

Let's emphasize that "or wrong" part. A customer may be totally wrong, but if they genuinely feel that they're being slighted then it's an opportunity for you to improve... even if that just means learning how to communicate more clearly with certain cranky customers.

And it's all the better if you can turn their perceived bad experience around before they leave.

The HARP Technique

Establishing a system for dealing with unhappy customers allows all employees to handle these situations in the correct way. Using an acronym tends to help everyone remember what to do. Enter H.A.R.P.:

  • Hear: Try your best to listen to customer complaints, no matter how unreasonable. There are two parts to this. One, try not to let unhappy customers walk out the door without addressing their concerns. If they leave angry, they may stew over their complaints and get more upset, or turn to the internet to complain publicly. That's the second part of the Hear step: Sometimes customers leave unhappy, and you won't know it. Have a system in place to monitor your online reviews so you can respond to the negative ones quickly (more on this below).
  • Acknowledge/Apologize: Both an acknowledgement and an apology may be necessary in some cases; in others, only one is needed. For instance, if you get a customer's order wrong, apologize for your mistake and fix the problem. But if the customer then asks for a free meal or service, you may just want to acknowledge the person's frustration. Commiserating goes a long way. "I'd be frustrated if I got the wrong order too, but our system won't allow me to give you a new one for free. Give me just a minute and I'll have the correct order right out for you."
  • Remedy: Win the customer over by offering something. Ideally, you'll fix whatever caused the issue in the first place, for example, by replacing the person's incorrect order. But set some limits about reasonable remedies. If the complaint is outside the bounds of what you can do - for example, if you're a contractor and your customers demand you do a week's worth of free work because they changed their minds about the layout - you may simply have to explain that that's not possible. But try to think of something that you can offer to make the customer feel better. Often times you can come up with something that doesn't cost you anything extra but it provides additional value to the customer. A little brainstorming goes a long way to make the customer feel cared for.
  • Prevent: If the customer's complaint is valid and related to a mistake on your end, use it as an opportunity to tweak your processes to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again. Even if you did nothing wrong, you may realize that you need to explain your policies more clearly going forward. It will be helpful for everyone (customers, staff, and yourself) if you can proactively prevent bad situations from occurring or reoccurring.

Stopping Problems Before They Start

No one can be everywhere at once. You may spend all day trying to please your customers and still find that you have a couple new negative Yelp reviews at the end of that day. Controlling how you manage your online reviews and reputation is part of any good customer-satisfaction strategy.

Reviews factor into satisfaction in two major ways:

  1. Monitoring your reviews allows you to notice trends and common complaints from your customers. It also lets you know what you're doing well. You can get a more accurate picture of how people are receiving you because most people are more honest in a written review than they are to your face.
  2. Cranky customers are more motivated to review you than happy ones. Getting more positive reviews will dilute some of the power that those negative reviews have over potential customers. If you look at a company's Yelp page, and it has three good reviews and three one-star reviews, you may not take a chance on it. But if that same page has 20 raves and just three one-star reviews, you'd probably form a different opinion.

Responding to Negative Reviews

Negative reviews are part of the online world, and businesses can't avoid them - even with excellent customer service. Being ready for negative reviews is just as important as getting positive reviews.

If you need to respond to a negative review, follow these steps:

  1. Respond directly within the review site by giving a public response to the customer's review. This will show up on your business listing and can be seen publicly by anyone who visits your page. Make sure you respond as quickly as possible after the review is posted.
  2. If you can identify who the customer is, reach out to them privately to resolve any issues they may have had in a way that makes them happy and doesn't embarrass you or the customer publicly.
  3. Use this incident as an opportunity to improve your internal processes so that it doesn't happen again, even if you did nothing wrong. A lot of the time (arguably most of the time), bad customer experiences are the result of a lack of communication. “Improving your processes” may just mean learning how to communicate certain things more clearly to your customers so that expectations are better understood. This can help you provide positive experiences in the future.

It's also a good idea to think of this as an opportunity to get some great customer feedback on how your business is operating. If you can turn a negative situation into a positive one, it makes you look really good in front of potential customers who are still deciding whether or not they'll do business with you. It also shows current customers that you care about them.

Negative reviews happen to everyone - even the best companies - so it's important not to take them too seriously. Be proactive, be professional, and take every complaint as an opportunity to learn something new.

A Systemized Approach

You've got a lot to get done every day. Simplify the way you manage the customer experience and get online reviews using an automated system like ReputationStacker.

It does all the work for you by easily and consistently collecting feedback from your customers and providing you with valuable insights. It also has the added benefit of sending your happy customers to the online review sites of your choice to post positive reviews. Better customer experiences and more positive reviews are a double win for your business.

Happily Ever After

When you convert an unhappy customer into a satisfied one, the ripple effect can be huge. A satisfied customer will write positive reviews, attracting more business to you.

Address customer complaints with HARP: Hear, Acknowledge/Apologize, Remedy and Prevent. And keep track of what customers are saying and get more positive reviews using an automated system like ReputationStacker.


Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.


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