Why Do Unhappy Customers Leave Negative Reviews?

Ever wonder what a customer wants when they leave a negative review? Is it a refund? Are they out for revenge? In this article, you'll learn why customers complain and what you can do to salvage your business's reputation.

Why Do Unhappy Customers Leave Negative Reviews?

 This is a good news/bad news article. The bad news is that unhappy customers complain, often in a public manner.

The good news, well, we’ll get to that later.

For now, read on to learn:

  1. What types of issues customers complain about
  2. What kinds of results they expect from their complaints
  3. The good news about all this
  4. What to do about negative feedback
  5. How to manage your online reputation
  6. Tools to help with reputation management

Note: This article is based on a recent study by Corra. Corra examined why customers leave negative feedback for businesses. I’ve analyzed the results of this study to give you some insight into what drives unhappy customers to post negative comments about your business publicly.

What issues make customers leave negative reviews, anyway?

The study broke customer complaints into three main types:

  • Service issue: 52 percent complain about what they perceive as bad service
  • Product issue: 31.4 percent complain about problems with products
  • Policy issues: 16.6 percent will complain about policies they disagree with

When a customer complains, they have a reason or an outcome they’d like to see as a result of the complaint. Here are the outcomes the consumers in the study said they wanted to see when complaining about businesses.

1. They want you to say “sorry.”

In the study, 38.9 percent of respondents said they want an apology. So, if a customer leaves you a negative review or comment on social media, get ready for a public apology.

Our tips: Say sorry. Ask the customer if they’d like to come in and talk to you personally. Give them options to call or email you as well so that you’ve done what you can to try to fix this problem.

2. They’d like to save other consumers from bad experiences.

Around 73% of consumers are motivated by the desire to save others from bad experiences.

We know that 97 percent of customers read reviews before making a purchase, and it seems these consumers know that too. They probably post the review or feedback with the hope of warning a potential customer who is researching your business.


Our tips: When a customer leaves public, negative feedback, you have to take action.

Don’t just leave that review to fester and drive away consumers who are researching your business.

Instead, reply to your negative reviews and comments whenever possible.

If the customer is warning people to stay away from your business in an attempt to save them from whatever horror they feel they experienced, you should start by apologizing.

Tell them sorry, even if it isn't your fault.

I know it’s difficult, but this is your online reputation at stake. Save the customer relationship and you’ll save yourself.

After you’ve apologized, explain that what happened to the customer is unusual and you are actively working to make sure this won’t happen again.

“We’re sorry your oil change took so long. We usually get cars in and out in an hour or less! Looks like you caught us at a bad time. We are working with our staff to ensure this wait time is addressed.”

Don’t forget to invite the customer to take things offline. This will:

  • Show anyone who reads your reviews that you care
  • Give you a chance to mend things in a more private setting


3. Some customers want you to be more honest.

Remember how 16.6 of customers are likely to complain if they disagree with your policies?

It looks like they want you to be more honest and upfront about your policies, too. Forty-eight percent agreed that they post negative reviews because they’d like you to be more honest about your policies.

Our tips: Authenticity can do a lot for your business. Be more open and honest with consumers about why you do what you do, and they’ll appreciate it.

And follow all the previous steps to reply to their feedback. Apologize. Explain that you’re working on it, and take the conversation offline.

4. Many consumers are motivated by financial reimbursement.

The study found that 48.3 percent of complaining customers would like a refund, while 28.5 percent want a store credit or gift card. While I don’t think you should refund every single customer who complains, there are times when a refund may be appropriate.

Each situation will be different, so you’ll have to judge each accordingly.

Our tips: If a customer doesn’t mention that they want a refund, you may not know how to make things right. Your first step, again, should be to apologize (and now I feel the need to apologize to you for continually telling you to be sorry, so I’m sorry).


After you apologize, try to take things offline.

Again, give the customer options to contact you. Once you’re talking, find out what you can do to make things right. If the customer explicitly asks for a refund, use your judgment to figure out the best course of action.

5. Some consumers just want revenge.

Ouch. That’s right; 13.5 percent want to hurt your reputation. Luckily, that’s a pretty small number.

And, the best part about this is that, if a customer is complaining just because they want to injure your online reputation, this gives you a perfect opportunity to use their complaint to turn things around and build your reputation!

Our tips: Apologize, and ask the customer what you can do to make it right. Explain that this is unusual.

Give them options to contact you so that, in the future, when consumers are researching your business, they see that you cared enough to make things right.

And, if you can’t make things right, you can always start asking happy customers for reviews so that you bury this negative feedback with lots of positive comments.

The Good News About Customers Who Write Negative Reviews

There’s good news in all this; I promise!

The study found that 89.7 percent of consumers will give a business two chances before they finally give up. That means you’ve got another chance to make a good impression with that disgruntled customer.


Our tips: If the customer complains but is willing to give you another chance, make sure you tell them to talk to you specifically the next time they come to your business.

That way you can personally make sure their next experience is better.

And if there are customer service, product or policy issues, you will have to address those in order to make things right with the customer.

Where should you go from here?

Here are a few quick tips to help you deal with negative reviews in general.

  1. Apologize, even if you don’t want to
  2. Ask the customer how you can make things right
  3. Take the conversation offline
  4. Address customer service, product or policy issues in order to prevent this in the future

Want more? We write a lot about review marketing and reputation management!

Final thoughts: Obligatory (and Shameless) Product Promotion

If you don’t have time to do it yourself, we can help! We have a product called Renown, which helps you get more reviews, adds a review feed to your microsite and shares positive reviews across social media. Learn more about Renown here.

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