Not All Press is Good Press: How to Protect Your Brand When You Receive Bad Publicity from Customers

You can work to provide the best customer experience imaginable – sealing a rainbow and a hug with your perfect product in its perfect packaging – and you will still have the occasional unhappy customer.  Sometimes, the issue is simply bad timing . . . a perfect storm in your customer’s life that culminates with your product underperforming in some perceived way (that’s more often a result of the person’s current frame of mind than actual underperformance).  Sometimes, the fit isn’t a good one; the product or service isn’t what the individual expected (possibly even because he or she didn’t pay enough attention to the sales pitch or product specs prior to purchase).  Regardless, one day you will be on the receiving end of bad publicity from an unhappy customer, and you’ll want to know the best way to handle the situation.  Below are some different approaches with the selection of the right one dependent upon the specific circumstances of the bad press.

Sometimes, no response is the best response.

I have had a really hard time with this one in the past.  It’s just so against my nature to not share my point of view.  However, this approach can be the right choice when . . .

  1. The customer discredits themself in the process . . . either by sounding a little crazy, exhibiting below average intelligence, or complaining about something that clearly isn’t the product’s fault.  In other words, if your average person would read the quote, review, or feedback from the individual and not be convinced (for whatever reason) that your product was at fault, then just walk away.  Your work is done.  No input needed.


    I found this gem on Bored Panda as part of 41 Of The Most Hilarious Amazon Reviews Ever to beautifully illustrate my point.


    Here’s another great one from The Best Social entitled These 16 Amazon Reviews Are As Funny As They Are Unhelpful.
  2. You have the potential to do more harm than good.  Whenever you receive bad publicity, take a step back and try to look at the big picture.  Does this negative press have the potential to negatively affect sales?  If so, by how much?  For how long?  If the potential fallout is minimal, walk away.  Count your losses and call it a day.  Another important variable . . . how angry does this customer seem to be?  When helping my son with his science homework recently, I was reminded by Newton that all actions have an equal and opposite reaction.  If you counter your opposition, the chance always exists that they will find another way to strike back (especially if you’re dealing with one of those customers in the midst of that perfect storm in their life).

Turn an unhappy customer into a happy one.

This route is my favorite.  When you see a problem that has a solution, strive for resolution.  Regardless of whether you saw the complaint on facebook, on yelp, or in your local newspaper, the approach is largely the same.  Reach out to the customer, let the person know you saw their issue, apologize for the misunderstanding (usually one exists in these situations), and try to remedy the problem.  Upon reaching happy conclusion, I never ask for the individual to undo their negative press.  Simply apologize, fix the problem, and thank the person for giving you the opportunity to do so.  The majority of the time, the person will not only undo the negative, he or she will rave about your customer service.  However, do be prepared for the small minority of people who have had their issue resolved and do not undo their bad publicity.  In those cases, you then need to decide whether the potential fallout is bad enough that you need to take further action.  If so, read on.

Mitigate the damage.

Sometimes, your customer’s problem is unsolvable (or he/she is unmoved by your solution) AND the associated publicity does have the potential to substantially impact your business.  In those cases, you need to act, BUT always approach these situations with great caution.  If you choose to respond by providing a quote to the reporter doing the story or as a direct response in a public venue (facebook, yelp or other review web site, your product web page, etc.), be sure to do the following:

  1. First and foremost, be respectful.  Do not speak at all negatively about the person or situation.  If you do, readers will empathize with the customer.  They will picture buying your product, having a problem, and being spoken to in that same negative manner.
  2. Apologize . . . carefully.  Despite whether you feel you’re at fault, your customer feels he or she has been wronged in some way.  You have a public victim.  That said, you’re probably not looking to claim full culpability either, so choose your words carefully.  Apologize: for the misunderstanding, for the terrible experience that’s been endured, etc.  Don’t say, “I apologize that my product was the cause of a terrible experience for you.”  The difference is subtle but important.
  3. Address the situation directly.  This is the time to share your side of things.  Nicely explain the issue from your perspective.  Your goal is for a potential customer to hear both sides and agree with you . . . or at least feel your fault is limited enough that they would still patronize your business.  I dug up two examples for you of 1-star reviews I’ve received that I felt warranted a response.




  4. Focus on increasing your positive publicity.  Work to counteract the negative message that was conveyed.  For example, if a customer’s complaint of faulty workmanship on her home got media attention, try to get press coverage on all the beautiful work your company has done.  That could mean applying for some recognition in your field (annual awards, etc.), which could then be promoted.  Another route would be to introduce a new guarantee on your workmanship, which could be publicized.  If you’ve done a job that was unique or special in some way, you could try to pitch the story to a reporter as a feature.  In my line of work, when a product gets a negative review that needs to be addressed, I send messages to other customers who have purchased the same product, asking if they would be willing to share their experience.  During this pandemic (while sales were at their worst for me), I needed to take this step.  Here was my message:

Hi there.  I would like to personally thank you once again for your purchase.  During these hard times in particular, the fact that you are purchasing products from small businesses means so much — to me and my family.  So please accept my sincerest thanks.

An additional step that is very meaningful is leaving a review.  IF you have the time available AND you were happy with your purchase, I would greatly appreciate you taking a few minutes to write a positive review for the product.  I think people often don’t realize how important an impact their voice can have — especially for a small business.

If you didn’t end up loving your purchase, please respond to this message and let me know.  I can either help you troubleshoot or I can personalize your product for you (if applicable), and I can work to improve the product for future customers.


Thank you!!!     


In conclusion, I sincerely hope you never have negative press.  (For a good article on proactive prevention, check out Great Customer Service is a Zero Cost Strategy by Business Management Blog.)  For the unfortunate though likely day that you do encounter an unhappy (and vocal) customer, I hope this article makes you feel a little more prepared.  Have any questions or comments?  We’d love to hear from you.  Scroll down to “Leave a Reply.”

Customer Service During Crises

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People are feeling overextended, underprepared, angry, sad, stressed, and scared.  Your customers, your staff (if you have one), you, and I are all likely experiencing some sense of these heightened emotions.  The extent to which these feelings exist in each person vary greatly as do their specific circumstances.  Generally speaking though, our “fight or flight” survival instincts (the body’s natural response to stressful stimuli) are lingering closer to the surface than usual. 

During times of crisis, you see evidence of this all around you:  the individual yelling at the cashier for the store’s “1 per person” limit; the beeping and yelling over that sought-after parking spot; and even an increased number of heated social media discussions that seem to have the voltage turned up a bit.  The beneficiaries of my stress . . . ?  These days, I find myself triggered by my children’s complaints of boredom (I suddenly channel my grandmother: “Be thankful you’ve got nothing to do, or I’ll give you something to do!”).  And God bless the telemarketer that calls my phone this month.

So what does all this have to do with your business’s customer service?  Chances are, your customers will have less patience than usual.  The person (or people) who works with your customers (even if that person is you) will probably have less patience than usual.  “The perfect storm.”  Unfortunately, any intense interactions will likely not be forgotten once the storm has calmed.  As illustrated by the info-graphic below, a disgruntled customer will process their feelings in one (or more) of a number of predictable and unfortunate ways. 

(Not topping the list of “What Happens After Poor Customer Experience”:
Customer will acknowledge that everyone is under a lot of stress and give the company the benefit of the doubt.)

How can we prevent ourselves from alienating customers during hard times?  Recognition is an extremely important first step.  One parenting mantra often repeated is, “Your child isn’t giving you a hard time; your child is having a hard time.”  This twist on perspective can easily apply to individuals of all ages who are having a hard time.  Before answering a phone call or responding to an email, take a moment to remember all the potential scenarios that people (including you) are dealing with right now:  serious health issues among family or close friends, loss of income and trouble paying bills, homeschooling children – in many cases – while working from home, etc.  Acknowledge all the weight that you and everyone else is carrying around.  Taking that moment will make a world of difference, I promise.

Going one step further, you may even want to solidify some more relaxed (short-term) customer service policies.  Formalizing a revised posture is particularly beneficial if you have employees that will be working with your customers during this time.  Having finite rules (that have been relaxed) will help your staff navigate this confusing landscape.

Good luck.  Stay safe.

If you have any questions or comments on this topic, we’d love to hear from you.  Scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of this page.