Dealing with Detractors in 4 Simple Steps

Net Promoter Score helps you suss out detractors, your unhappiest customers. But what do you do once you find them? Here are 4 steps to follow.


Jana Barrett

August 30, 2018

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If you use Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) to keep tabs on customer happiness, then you know how painful a low score can feel. While NPS is a valuable customer experience metric, it also opens you up to a lot of criticism from detractors, or customers who rate themselves as unlikely to recommend your business to their peers. 

It’s the feedback no one likes to get: this person would definitely not refer business to you. But it’s also one of the best ways to suss out customers who need your immediate attention. By intervening in a timely and effective way, your relationship with these customers can recover, and you can prevent causing damage to your business.

how to use nps

What are NPS detractors? 

A detractor is a respondent to your NPS survey who gives you a rating of 6 or below. These customers are unhappy with a purchase, interaction with your business, or with your overall company. 

Detractors are unlikely to return as customers and could be looking for other options on the marketplace because they’re dissatisfied or frustrated. They may even be sharing their negative experience with friends, colleagues, or on review sites. These people can damage your brand quickly and significantly. 

How NPS is calculated 

In case you’re wondering what the complete range of NPS scores and ratings are, here’s a refresher.

The Net Promoter Score survey asks customers how likely they are to recommend your business or products/services to their friends and colleagues, on a scale from 0 (very unlikely) to 10 (highly likely). Once you’ve sent out your surveys and received responses, you calculate your NPS with the following formula: 

Subtract the percentage of detractors (customers who rated you 0-6 on NPS survey) from the percentage of promoters (customers who rated you 9-10 on NPS survey). 

The NPS score range is between -100 to +100. A score below 0 indicates that your business has more detractors than promoters, which requires immediate attention to make improvements to the customer experience. If you had only promoters, your score would be 100. But realistically, a score of 50 or above is considered great, while 70 or over is best-in-class. 

How can detractors impact your business?

When customers are unhappy, they don’t keep it to themselves. Around 95% will share a negative experience with others. That means one bad customer experience can have a loud echo, damaging your brand reputation and deterring potential business.

Think of the last time you had a very negative experience with a business. Maybe it was disappointing, costing significant money or time.

It’s unlikely that every customer will keep a negative experience to themselves. They’re likely to share their frustrations with colleagues or friends or even vent on social media channels. 

While most detractors don’t air their grievances with negative intent, even a single review can have a significant impact on your business. Other potential customers can use negative reviews to avoid patronizing your business. 

The detractor themself is highly unlikely to return, so you’ve likely lost their business as well. Since acquiring new customers is much more expensive than keeping your existing ones (from 5 to 25 times more expensive), losing existing customers costs your business significant revenue. 

Detractors don’t just cost money, they harm the brand image you have carefully worked to build. Building trust with your customers comes with time, and a negative incident shared widely can break that trust. Your customers may shift to a competitor instead of risking dealing with the same issue. 

Types of detractors 

Detractors come in several different varieties. Knowing which kind you’re dealing with can help you come to a swifter and more satisfying conclusion for both parties. 

First, there are customers who have already made up their minds to end their relationship with your company and simply want you to know why. These detractors have made their decision and there’s not much you can do to bring them back. The best strategy is to prevent them from damaging your brand image. 

Next, there are customers who are researching alternatives to your products or services, but haven’t definitively made up their minds. There is still a bit of hope to win them back over, at least into the passive category, but the outlook isn’t great. 

The third type is the detractor who has been disappointed but still thinks your products or services have potential. This could be because your company makes the only real option on the market, or has a significant advantage in quality over competitors. Either way, even though they’re unhappy right now, you can still recover the relationship. 

Finally, there are detractors who don’t have plans to switch to an alternative option but they had a bad experience, and want your business to be aware. Perhaps they are typically loyal fans of your company, but had a negative interaction with a customer service rep and want to air their complaints in the hope of getting a solution. These detractors are unlikely to spread the word widely about their unhappiness and you can salvage the relationship with the right moves. 

If your detractor is one of the types where the relationship can still be rescued, what steps should you take next? It can be a helpless feeling to know that even just a few of your customers are angry at your company. But there’s still hope. 

Here’s a 4-step process for handling detractors and safeguarding your brand.

Step 1: Acknowledge their feedback

Nearly half of your detractors will leave your company within 90 days if you don’t do anything about it. Some will go silently, while others will kick up dust on their way out. Either way, if you don’t address their issues quickly, it’ll only add fuel to the fire.

When you receive negative feedback, first pause and assess the situation. Is this a quick fix or a bigger problem? If it’s the latter, follow up as soon as possible with a personal note acknowledging their feedback. Your response should:

  • Explain why you’re contacting them

  • Restate the issue, so they know you understand

  • Ask clarifying questions

  • Assure them you want to reach a solution

You don’t have to offer solutions just yet—you’re simply showing the customer that you feel their pain and are committed to making things better.

Sometimes, even simply acknowledging that you have heard and understand their frustration is enough to move them into the passive category. Customers understand that there will be issues occasionally.  At a minimum, what they want is to have their voice heard by your business. 

If you don’t have the bandwidth to respond to customer feedback immediately, try setting up an auto-acknowledgement email specifically for detractor feedback. This gets the resolution process rolling. Then, you can follow up with a more personalized message.

Step 2: Get to the heart of the issue

Next, do your homework. Find as many details as possible before jumping into resolution mode or asking for more info. Review the customer’s case history, read prior feedback, and talk to your team. If they’ve spoken to someone before, you can gain a lot of context from chatting with that agent or rep. The last thing you want to do is make an angry detractor restate their issue over and over again.

If some departments are operating in silos instead of coming together to solve customer problems, this should be addressed internally. For example, if customers who have a billing issue are bounced from the customer service team to the billing department and told something different each time, your internal processes need work. 

Once you have the information you need, determine how you’ll approach the customer. This is where a protocol sheet comes in handy. This document could include:

  1. Pre-approved responses to questions/messages of any kind (just be sure these don’t sound cookie-cutter - make them human)

  2. A list of the most common issues and steps on how to proceed

  3. Contact information of departments that may need to be involved (e.g. PR, HR, sales, etc.)

Once you know what steps to take, relay the information back to the customer as clearly and  Dealing with angry customers can be difficult, but stay professional and focus on reaching a resolution, not battling out.

Customers are not complaining just to bash your organization (well, not most of the time). They’re frustrated by an issue and looking for your help and partnership to fix it. If this happens successfully and empathetically, your relationship with the customer can recover and even grow stronger. 

Step 3: Improve the customer relationship

You may have resolved the issue at hand, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. The issue is simply one piece in the complex customer relationship, which may have been damaged by the issue or your response to it. You will need to repair the relationship and rebuild trust to retain the customer. 

How do you ensure that the customer doesn’t take their business elsewhere?

  • Follow up with the customer after the resolution to make sure they’re still satisfied.

  • Give the customer a discount code for their next purchase or a break on their subscription.

  • Send the customer a note from the CEO of the company, thanking them for their business.

It’s also important to reflect on each situation and determine if it’s part of a larger recurring issue. If you’re noticing a trend with a certain type of problem, it may be time to rethink certain processes, products, or aspects of your business. This way, you can do everything in your power to prevent an issue from happening again.

Step 4: Prevent other customers from becoming detractors

How do you make sure your customers are satisfied from the get-go? Reducing the opportunity for mistakes to arise is the first step. It’s much easier to prevent customers from becoming detractors than it is to fix a damaged relationship. 

Customer journey mapping is a helpful exercise when you’re looking for ways to reduce pain points in the customer experience. Identifying touchpoints where there have been multiple problems that turn customers into detractors (even briefly) is the first step to fixing those issues before they frustrate or disappoint any other customers. 

Mapping your customer journey enables your organization to see how each piece of the customer experience works together. By looking at the journey from a customer’s point of view, you’ll create a more customer-centric organization that delights your customers instead of disappointing them. 

Looking for more ways to prevent customers from becoming detractors in the first place? Here are a few other best practices. 

  • When launching a new product or service, walk through the process as if you were a customer. This is a great way for you to identify weak points in the process and fix them before a customer brings it to your attention.

  • Providing customers with a monitored forum to share their experience—the good and bad—is also another method you can use to determine what works and what doesn’t.

  • Use surveys to monitor customer satisfaction. GetFeedback customers can seamlessly collect feedback using on-brand surveys, then map the responses to Salesforce. From there, it’s easy to set up alerts and follow-up workflows so the right team is notified and you can take action right away.

The dos and don’ts of dealing with detractors

To sum all that up, here’s a quick list to follow when unhappy customers come knocking.


  • Address feedback in a timely manner (ideally 24 hours or less)

  • Be polite and professional

  • Gain context before jumping in

  • Have a resolution plan in place (and adhere to it)

  • Follow up once the situation is resolved

  • Take steps to prevent similar events from occurring in the future


  • Minimize the issue

  • Take it personally or get defensive

  • Tell the customer they are wrong

  • Ask repetitive questions or questions you can answer yourself

  • Make promises you can’t keep


While you can’t stop every customer from taking their complaints public, you can give people more opportunities to share their feedback privately. By seeking out their input, you’ll prevent customers from taking to social media and review sites to air out their frustrations.

The simplest way to armor yourself against detractors is to engage them. By asking for their opinions and seeking out negative feedback proactively, you create more opportunities for dialogue. If handled correctly and in a timely manner, these situations can be flipped into positive, relationship-building scenarios that result in brand advocacy, increased loyalty, and referrals.

Want to see for yourself? Schedule a demo of GetFeedback today or review our extensive customer experience resources

If handled correctly and in a timely manner, these situations can be flipped into positive, relationship-building scenarios that result in brand advocacy, increased loyalty, and referrals.

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