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Customer dissatisfaction: A guide to handling unhappy customers

Dissatisfied customers can affect your company’s reputation. Learn how to identify the various types of unhappy customers and adopt methods for saving the relationship.

Por Susan Lahey, Contributing Writer

Última atualização em November 27, 2023

What is customer dissatisfaction?

Customer dissatisfaction is when a consumer is displeased with a company they’ve interacted with. This sentiment can arise from unmet expectations, poor product quality, unsatisfactory customer service, and several other factors.

Most businesses can attest to interacting with customers who are unhappy due to product or service shortcomings. However, how companies deal with this dissatisfaction is crucial for future growth and success.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 60 percent of consumers purchase from a brand solely based on the service they expect to receive. This means organizations that fail to identify and remedy causes of customer dissatisfaction can be plagued by lost business and dwindling revenue. In this article, we dive into the basics of customer dissatisfaction so you can spot it, eradicate it, and promote good customer service throughout your organization.

More in this guide:

What causes customer dissatisfaction?

Customer dissatisfaction can stem from any touchpoint on the buyer’s journey that negatively impacts a customer’s experience with a brand. Here are a few common ways this happens.

A bulleted list shows the causes of customer dissatisfaction.

Poor customer service

According to our CX Trends Report, 73 percent of consumers will switch to a competitor after multiple bad experiences, and more than half will switch to a competitor after only one bad experience. Given how impactful the customer experience (CX) can be, it should be a top priority for businesses struggling with customer dissatisfaction.

Businesses must proactively identify instances of poor customer service, which can stem from various causes such as under-trained staff, slow communication, and subpar customer support processes, among others. Businesses that fail to improve in this area can develop a poor reputation and lose customers fast.

Example: Perk Sip Cafe is a fictional coffee shop known for its inviting ambiance and high-quality beverages. However, it recently experienced a decline in its reputation after the manager made questionable hiring decisions and stopped prioritizing customer service.

Customers grew increasingly dissatisfied with their experiences, and word got out that the business wasn’t what it used to be. After multiple instances of bad customer service involving rude staff and subpar drinks, most of Perk Sip’s clientele went to other coffee shops around town. To turn things around, the cafe owner made staffing changes and prioritized delivering outstanding experiences to every customer.

Product quality and performance

Consumers expect the products they purchase to perform as intended. If what they receive doesn’t align with the advertisements they saw or the independent research they performed, it creates a disconnect between expectations and reality.

This refers to both the quality and the performance of the product. A product could meet every expectation out of the box, but if it breaks down easily or fails to meet the customer’s needs, it can result in disappointment and frustration. In fact, 77 percent of consumers cite “great product or service” as an important factor for brand loyalty—proving that your product quality and performance need to hit the mark time after time.

Example: HarmoniSound is a fictional company specializing in speakers, headphones, and home theater systems. Its flagship product—a yearly, highly anticipated set of headphones—launched with several critical issues.

The Bluetooth connectivity was spotty, the sound quality was average, and even the most staunch HarmoniSound supporters were struggling to justify the price tag. Sales soon plummeted, and management held an emergency meeting to fix the product issues and contacted the churned customers with reactivation offers.

Incomplete customer data

Organizations lacking complete or accurate customer information may find it difficult to address consumer concerns efficiently. According to our CX Trends Report, 70 percent of customers expect anyone they interact with to have the full context of their situation. This includes not only their personal information but also the details of their problem, so if they get transferred to another agent in the middle of an inquiry or complaint, they won’t need to repeat themselves.

Customer support teams also believe it’s important to have access to this data. In our CX Trends Report, 6 in 10 agents said a lack of data often causes negative experiences. When agents don’t have customer context, they can’t resolve problems as quickly. They must also ask customers to recount their information and explain their issue all over again, which results in frustrating experiences for customers.

Example: SleekThread is a fictional online clothing retailer. Historically, the company’s customer management system has made consumer interactions a nightmare for its support agents.

When customers called in or emailed SleekThread to inquire about an exchange or return, their personal information was rarely available to the support agents. This led to lengthy wait times, confusion, and many dissatisfied customers. Additionally, customer data was siloed across sales, marketing, and service, so agents couldn’t reliably access the data they needed.

After seeing this wave of general dysfunction, SleekThread used integrations to connect its customer management system with other tools in its tech stack so customer data was available to all teams within the organization.

Subpar self-service capabilities

Self-service capabilities refer to FAQ pages, forums, informative articles, and other assets customers can use to solve their problems independently. Consumers want their issues resolved as soon as possible, and if their only option is to call a support line and potentially wait on hold, they could easily become aggravated.

According to our CX Trends Report, 4 in 10 support agents agree that consumers become angry when they cannot complete tasks on their own. So, if self-service options are lacking or unavailable, customer dissatisfaction isn’t far away.

Example: First Dollar Credit Union is a fictional small-town bank. While it slowly embraced new technology and created an app and advanced website, it wasn’t meeting customer needs fast enough.

First Dollar didn’t have a knowledge base, so customers were unable to resolve straightforward issues independently. As a result, customers started experiencing long lines at branches and longer wait times over the phone, and many of them switched to other banks for a streamlined user experience. First Dollar conducted a few customer surveys due to its dwindling customer base and soon realized it needed to build out its self-service capabilities to avoid losing more customers.

Lack of personalization

Personalization is quickly becoming a key element of the modern consumer experience. According to our CX Trends Report, 76 percent of customers expect personalization, and 6 in 10 believe businesses should use the data they collect about them to personalize their experiences. Customers could feel unimportant and dissatisfied when a company fails to deliver personalized experiences, like curated product suggestions and tailored emails.

Businesses that provide effective personalization often see customer satisfaction and loyalty improve. Deloitte found that personalization leaders have 1.5x stronger customer loyalty than their peers.

Example: NostalgiaStream is a fictional streaming service focused on classic movies. The company experienced fast growth shortly after launch but has since seen a decline following poor personalization.

Customers often received movie recommendations that seemed completely out of the blue and never related to their watch history, and “personalized” emails contained irrelevant suggestions. This led to customer churn.

NostalgiaStream soon realized it needed to elevate its personalization efforts. The business revamped its streaming platform to improve recommendations and invested in CX software that gave employees easy access to customer information, leading to more tailored interactions across channels.

Unmet expectations

Whether they realize it or not, consumers bring pre-defined expectations to every purchase or interaction with a business. Consumers want your price point, quality, customer service, delivery time, and more to align with their expectations.

This applies to technology as well. According to our CX Trends Report, 73 percent of consumers expect more interactions with AI—like chatbots—in their daily lives. If you’re not keeping up with industry trends and new technology, you’re opening the door to dissatisfaction.

Example: Cover2 Apparel is a fictional clothing brand specializing in sports apparel. Recently, other businesses in the industry started offering more innovative customer experiences, utilizing AI to supplement the customer support experience. Cover2 didn’t see the value of adopting AI, but customers did, and they started to expect AI in their interactions with the company.

However, Cover2 stayed firm with its traditional approach and outdated technology—a decision that resulted in a significant loss of its customer base. Faced with a drastic drop in revenue, Cover2 decided to embrace AI to stay competitive in the marketplace and meet customer needs and expectations.

Types of dissatisfied customers and how to handle them

There are many different types of customers that businesses will encounter, all with unique feelings, motivations, and complaints. Here are three of the most common types of dissatisfied customers and how you can assist them.

A column showing the types of dissatisfied customers and how to handle them.

Angry customers

When customers are dissatisfied, they can easily become angry. It’s understandable—when someone spends their hard-earned money on something that doesn’t meet their needs, they can feel hoodwinked or betrayed. It’s important to know how to deal with angry customers.

How to assist angry customers: Don’t mimic their emotions—flip them. Be calm and empathetic, and approach the situation apologetically to assuage and reassure the customer. From there, prioritize timely responses and a thorough resolution.

Churned customers

Other dissatisfied customers may become fed up and churn. These individuals once had a relationship with your business and may have been loyal customers, but something happened that soured their opinion. Not all churned customers are dissatisfied, though—some may have left due to budgetary issues or a change in needs.

How to assist churned customers: Figure out why they churned and find a way to reestablish the relationship. Solicit feedback via a survey to understand their reason for leaving, and once you know this information, contact them with special offers. Send personalized emails to remind them of the previous relationship, communicate that you resolved their concerns, and offer reactivation incentives if possible.

Demanding customers

A certain set of dissatisfied customers may become demanding. It can be difficult to determine the motivations of these individuals—some may become demanding because they’re extremely frustrated with your business, and others may make demands because of their expectations around previous experiences.

How to assist demanding customers: Get clarity on what the customer is upset about and what they’re asking for—whether it’s a price reduction, add-on, or complete refund—and practice empathy. Support agents should feel empowered to make concessions where it makes sense, but if a customer is demanding for no reason, they must say no to the customer. In some cases, you may need to rely on your most experienced agents to handle this type of dissatisfied customer.

Become fluent in customer expectations with our CX report

Read the Zendesk CX Trends Report to learn more about ever-changing consumer preferences and create memorable experiences that boost customer satisfaction.

How to prevent customer dissatisfaction

Preventing customer dissatisfaction—and promoting customer satisfaction—should be a top priority for every business. Here are some steps you can take to limit negative interactions.

Four icon designs that highlight ways to minimize customer dissatisfaction.

Adopt a customer-first mindset

One of the fundamental ways to prevent customer dissatisfaction is to adopt a customer-first mindset. Customer-first means putting the customer at the center of organizational decision-making instead of solely focusing on profitability or growth. Businesses that follow this approach gain a better understanding of customer needs, wants, and pain points.

This leads to more intelligent decisions that customers will appreciate, like implementing customer feedback and making improvements to a product or service. As a result, customers are more likely to be satisfied and inclined to remain loyal, thereby enhancing business growth and profitability.

Set clear expectations for the customer

Setting clear and realistic expectations is critical in preventing customer dissatisfaction. As we’ve touched on, one of the major sources of dissatisfaction is unmet expectations, so your business must prioritize transparency at every touchpoint.

This approach should permeate throughout your organization. Unless you’re using a follow-the-sun model, set clear hours for your support team and communicate them to customers so they know when live agents aren’t available. Be accurate in product descriptions, advertisements, and other promotional copy. Communicate the little things like tax, shipping times, and additional details that may seem insignificant but aren’t. When customers are informed, they will clearly understand what to expect from your business.

Think one step ahead of your customers

Be proactive by trying to anticipate what consumers may need before they even ask—an approach that can apply to your product offering and support team. For instance, you can regularly develop new product features to stay ahead of changing consumer preferences and needs.

In terms of customer support, ask yourself, “What will the customer need to do or know next?” For example, if a customer emails your support team because they’re locked out of their account, perhaps your email response includes specific actions they could take to unlock it, as well as a guide for resetting their account if they’re unsuccessful in unlocking it. Seemingly insignificant actions like this can make a big impact on customer satisfaction.

Ask for feedback

Continually seeking out and acting on customer feedback is invaluable in understanding what consumers want, staying one step ahead, and minimizing dissatisfaction. When you ask buyers to provide feedback via surveys, you show them that you prioritize customer care and want to improve their experience.

Customer feedback also provides unique insights and perspectives that enable you to identify areas of improvement and make adjustments promptly. So when leveraged properly, customer feedback helps businesses enhance their products or services as well as their processes that impact the customer experience.

Zendesk can help you remedy customer dissatisfaction

Customer dissatisfaction can cause serious disadvantages for a business. While it’s normal to encounter a few unhappy customers from time to time, a recurring trend of dissatisfaction can lead to lost business and diminished revenue.

One of the best ways to eliminate bad customer interactions is to focus on the customer experience. You can do this by adopting a customer-first mindset, being proactive, and using customer service software like Zendesk. Our comprehensive CX capabilities have helped hundreds of companies minimize customer dissatisfaction and grow loyal customer bases.

Try Zendesk for free today to revolutionize your CX.

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