When a customer is disgruntled, the act of solving his problem in a rational and authentic way – meaning not hiding the truth – is an excellent opportunity to turn him into the most loyal customer you ever had.

Does this mean we should mess up as a strategy? Of course not. You know the popular saying in these ‘connected times’: “an unhappy customer will tell xyz (fill in a number) perfect strangers.”

However, our mania about reputation and fear of comments make us forget the basics and often even take wrong decisions as research about “bad” or “negative” customer reviews shows.

The purpose of a business is to make profit, and it does so by making sure customers get what they look for fast across all touch points. Customer satisfaction leads to revenue and profit. Unfortunately, perfection does not exist. Furthermore, what might seem perfect to one customer, is not for another. Everything in life and business is subjective and contextual.

The disgruntled customer opportunity

If a customer is disgruntled you risk losing him. It happens, even if you do all you can to solve the reason of his dissatisfaction. Some people just want to be angry forever, and it’s their right.

However, if you ever worked as an internal sales rep or customer service agent, you know that you need to let an unsatisfied customer tell his story. Sometimes that involves letting him shout for a while. In most cases what follows next is that glorious moment when the anger fades away, and you can actually analyze what went wrong, admit what needs to be admitted and solve it.

Let’s talk about social media now. “Negative” comments on Twitter, “bad” reviews and the likes: scary, aren’t they? I’ve been talking about the topic several times in the last few years. Yes, there is the “xyz perfect strangers” effect. Yes, you should focus on great customer experiences across all touch points. However, old rules do still apply: a bad review is an opportunity if properly solved and answered. According to the Right Now Retail Consumer Report 2011, 18% of consumers became loyal repeat customers after receiving a brand response to negative feedback (remember: handle data and reports with care).

And there is more.

It’s stupid to think consumers are stupid

While many businesses do everything to avoid and even erase bad reviews, the matter of the fact is that it’s not that bad to have…bad reviews. The reason is simple: consumers are not stupid (although businesses sure know how to influence them in ways that often go beyond what we could call ethical). If people visit a website and only see good reviews, they become suspicious. I know I do and you know you do. We want to see reviews, period.

Most people look at all reviews, not only at that one review stating holiday destination xyz sucks. It might come as a surprise as well but consumers are people, and people can actually think. They know that if a bad review has been posted for a holiday destination during the busiest season of the year, chance is that at that time staff might have been overwhelmed. They also know that a customer experience depends on many factors: if someone writes the holiday destination offered nothing to do for his teenage kids, people that seek rest or have younger kids won’t mind at all.

People make informed buying decisions: ‘good’ and ‘bad’ customer reviews matter both

Finally, if they notice that the company that got bad reviews actually answers and solves problems, not by deleting, but by responding properly to bad reviews, consumers will respect that (remember the sales and customer service reps).

So, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that social commerce company reevoo (methodology unknown) found that two-thirds of consumers trust reviews more when they see a mix of good and bad ones and that 95% of consumers become suspicious when there are no negative customer reviews at all.

People want to weigh up the positive against the negative because – surprise, again – they like to make informed buying decisions!

Reevoo even claims it noted an increase of conversion rates with 67% among consumers that take their time to read “good” and “bad” reviews.

Regardless of the exact numbers and this specific research, you better reconsider your attitude about reviews, next time you feel like faking, manipulating or censoring honest customer reviews. Transparency in business should be obvious, what you do will probably come out one way or another so don’t even try. Now, authenticity, that’s another ball game.

Unless a business makes perfect products or offers perfect services, it will get a mix of positive and negative reviews and consumers will consider them. Unfortunately, many marketers also know how to trick that, even without openly foul play but simply by the ways and the words they use to ask for reviews, when they do.

The report, which I found via this article, can be downloaded here.