How to Deal With Bad Reviews and Turn Haters into Brand Advocates

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No matter how authentic, reliable or trustworthy your business is, there will always be clients, customers or employees that have something negative to say. The good news is that it’s not what they say that can really impact your business; it’s how you react to it.

As Jay Baer, marketing strategist and president of the social media and content marketing consultancy Convince & Convert put it in his presentation at SMMW15, “Haters are not the problem, ignoring them is.” To come to this conclusion, Jay worked directly with Edison Research and Tom Webster, vice president of strategy and marketing for the firm, to survey more than 2,000 people on where they complain, why they complain and what they expect when they complain.

Understanding Your Haters

The results of the Edison survey show that they are two kinds of complainants, which Jay refers to as Offstage Haters and Onstage Haters. Offstage Haters are those who privately express their woes on the phone, in an email or letter. Onstage Haters are those who those who take the spotlight on social media and public forums to voice their opinions. Here’s a rundown of their respective characteristics:


While these two groups clearly possess a number of differences, such as age and tech savviness that influence their approach, the most important difference is the expectation of response. Knowing that 91% of phone complainants expect a response means that if you’re not meeting those expectations, those private complaints are going to go public.

In fact, the firm’s research shows that 62% of first complaints are made on the phone or via email, but when those customers are disappointed by the response, or lack thereof, they move their angst to a public forum. TNS also reports that 71% of consumers who complain online do so as a result of failing traditional customer service.

How to answer complaints

While it may seem easier to just ignore complaints about your business, service or products, the truth is that people want their opinions heard. Plus, they want to be treated well, especially when they are spending money, so how you treat your customers – both happy and disgruntled – is a competitive differentiator. In fact, Walker Research shows that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price as a key brand differentiator.

All this seems logical, but companies still have all kinds of excuses for why they don’t respond to bad reviews – from unwillingness to add credence to complaints to an inability to manage a large number of complaints or even find them in the first place. But regardless of why we don’t respond, the bottom line is that businesses need to answer every complaint, on every channel, every time. Why? Because answering complaints increases customer advocacy and not answering decreases customer advocacy.

Just answering isn’t good enough though. There is a certain way to respond to get haters back on your team. Here are a few key tips:

  1. Reply quickly.
  2. Don’t take it personally.
  3. Apologize.
  4. Take online complaints offline into a private setting like email or phone.

Ignoring complaints puts gas on the fire you created, while replying not only gives off the impression that you’re trustworthy and stand by your business, but also gives you a chance to make lemonade from lemons. It’s a chance to turn bad news good, to change attitudes and boost customer advocacy.

Why it’s worth it

For banks, advocates are each worth $9,500 more than detractors. Is it with worth nearly $10,000 to answer a complaint? Most of you will probably say yes. Answering a complaint, regardless of your business, can have a massive financial impact, so answering every complaint, on every channel, every time is a sure way to keep those once angry customers from hurting your bottom line.

In addition, complaints and reviews are insights into your business’ weaknesses. Haters let you know when you have a problem, as long as you’re willing to listen, and answering those complaints can turn a bad customer experience into a great customer experience. After all, haters are not your most dangerous customers. By complaining, haters are findable, which makes them savable and valuable. It’s the people you disappointed and lost, because they never spoke up, that you will never see another dime from again. Embrace complaints to save another customer from ditching you forever and finding service in your competitors.

In business, as in life, we all need those team members who tell it like it is. Haters are those people. They see things we don’t see. Truly listening to complaints can help make your business better, if you’re willing to take the heat. However, you can’t cherry-pick your complaints and only provide responses to meet your needs, you need to answer everything.

Where to focus your efforts

Because we can’t all have a team of professionals dedicated to answering phone calls, replying to emails and perusing the Internet looking for every complaint or slightly negative mention of our business, knowing where to focus your efforts can be tough. Showing love to phone and email complaints is a good place to start – simply because of their volume and sequence – but when it comes to managing your brand’s image, paying attention to online reviews has the biggest impact.

Edison Research shows that when asked if they would recommend a business to a friend, offstage haters average 5.8 before complaining via phone and jump up to a 6.4 after receiving a response. This shows that responding to a phone call increases customer advocacy by 10%, while not responding to a phone call decreases advocacy by 51% . The advocacy impact here isn’t that impressive because having someone respond to an email or telephone is a common expectation. It’s not that shocking. In fact, 84% of phone complaints are answered.

The biggest opportunity for advocacy comes from embracing online complaints. On review sites 52% of people expect a response, but they don’t usually get one, so when they do, the reaction is very impactful. Responding to a complaint on a review site increases advocacy by 16% and not responding decreases advocacy by 37%.

Here’s a breakdown of Onstage Hater complaint channels from Edison Research:


Of those complaining on social media, 42% expect a response and about 40% of those complaints are addressed. What’s more, 39% of those who complain on social expect a response within one hour, but the average response time is 4.99 hours. Even if the hour expectation isn’t met, which proves to be true for a majority of businesses, responding to a complaint on social media still has a significant positive impact, increasing advocacy by 20%, while not responding decreases advocacy by 43%.

Onstage Haters will troll almost any social network, but here are the channels they frequent most:


The combination of smartphones and always-on connectivity has removed any barriers to complaints, which makes it easier than ever to complain online. As Jay said, “You can complain in five minutes while driving in your underpants, if you want.”

Answering public complaints has the greatest impact because its available for anyone to read and in many cases you’ve already let your customer down twice – their initial interaction with your product, business or service and then again when they, presumably, tried to contact you in a private setting. Showing attention online is your last chance to turn a bad relationship good.

The bottom line is that when it comes to haters, you have two choices: ignore them and hope they go away (which they won’t) or embrace the opportunity to answer every complaint and use it as a differentiator for your brand. If you choose the latter, remember to always answer every complaint, on every channel and to do it fast.