Customer Feedback Management: Focus On Your Detractors


We all know someone who loves a brand unconditionally – they simply can’t stop talking about their latest purchases and recommending that others buy from them as well. Over a decade ago, when Bain & Company started researching this behavior, they discovered a strong correlation with continued brand loyalty, and as a result today’s well-established Net Promoter Score (NPS) was developed.

Net Promoter Score

The NPS poses a single question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend us to family and friends?” Based on the response, customers are categorized into three classes: 

  • Promoters (scored a 9 or 10)
  • Passives (scored a 7 or 8)
  • Detractors (scored 0 to 6)


So, is having a ‘Passive’ customer better for your business than having a ‘Detractor’? Using the NPS system, intuition might lead you to say yes because they’re more likely to recommend you to their family and friends.

However, in this article, I’m suggesting that the opposite is true.

The value of a ‘Detractor’

If someone is always a ‘Passive’ customer of your business that means that nothing has happened to either disappoint or truly impress them over the course of their entire interaction with you. They hold a neutral stance towards your organization. While you've managed to meet their expectations, you haven't established a strong and loyal relationship with them. Consequently, when a competitor emerges with a newer feature, a more persuasive salesperson, or a lower price, these customers are likely to switch away from your business.

On the other hand, a ‘Detractor’ is generally a ‘Detractor’ for a specific reason or reasons. At some point, they have had a negative experience… maybe it’s even happened on multiple occasions. They’re emotional about you, but not in a good way (which is the objective of good customer experience management). 

While ‘Promoters’ are often simply brand or company enthusiasts, ‘Detractors’ are rarely unhappy just because of brand reasons. In some way, your business has left them dissatisfied, whether from subpar service, product faults, or other issues. The silver lining is that research indicates you can successfully convert a ‘Detractor’, and if you do, they are likely to become your most enthusiastic and influential ‘Promoters’.

Moving from negative to positive

In 1965, renowned American psychologists, Elliot Aronson and Darwyn Linder, conducted a series of social experiments which suggested that people are more sensitive to gains or losses in esteem than the true level of the change itself. When someone consistently supports us, we often take it for granted and tend to undervalue it. Conversely, we generally view someone who started as a rival but later became a fervent supporter as a genuine advocate, giving more weight to their opinions.

Aronson concluded that a person whose liking for us increases over time will be more appreciated than one who has always liked us. Typically, individuals find it more rewarding when someone who was initially negative, gradually becomes more positive than if that person’s feelings were positive all along.

Aronson also said that the feeling is mutual. To like us, resistors or ‘Detractors’ have to work especially hard to overcome their initial negative impressions. Going forward, to avoid the cognitive dissonance of changing their minds yet again, they are generally more motivated to maintain a positive relationship.

Drawing a parallel with NPS, once ‘Detractors’ become ‘Promoters’, they are much more likely to remain a ‘Promoter’ than someone who has always been. Therefore, the most valuable customers aren't necessarily the ones who have supported us consistently; rather, they are the ones with whom we've had to work through challenges to improve our service and their sentiment toward us.

Focus on the ‘Detractors’

The third conclusion drawn by Aronson was that it is our former adversaries who are the most effective at persuading others to trust or try our brand. They are capable of presenting stronger arguments on our behalf because they can relate to the doubts and hesitations of other resistors and undecided individuals. Moreover, they tend to be a more credible source for such prospects because they haven't always been advocates; they once questioned or challenged us.

This leads me to my second parallel between this research and an NPS program: ‘Detractors’ who become ‘Promoters’ are much more likely to credibly refer their friends and families to your business. People are more likely to be persuaded if they know the person referring them to the business was once a critic and didn’t simply purchase indifferently.

For these reasons, I advise organizations to focus more of their efforts on converting their ‘Detractors’. And here’s a few additional reasons why:

  • They’re generally easier to shift than ‘Passives’ – instead of indifference, there’s already a level of emotion and some form of relationship there.
  • The potential rewards are greater – there is a distinct possibility that they’ll skip the ‘Passive’ category entirely and move straight into ‘Promoters’ if you listen to their concerns and take appropriate action. When you show them you’re listening and demonstrate change based on their feedback, they’re likely to take note and appreciate it!
  • Once they become a ‘Promoter’, they become much more credible as a source of referrals.
  • They are also more likely to remain as a long-term ‘Promoter’.

One effective and powerful way of capturing your ‘Detractors'’ feedback so that you can turn them into brand ‘Promoters’ is to give them a microphone and platform so they can share their feelings. In order to gain real, valuable insights and understand their issues so that you can respond, adjust, and improve their experiences, you'll need to ask questions, encourage them to share thoughts, and analyze their feedback to elicit change. For that, you need a Voice of the Customer (VoC) solution to help you establish a successful, efficient, and automated, customer feedback practice.

CentraCX is a VoC platform for contact centers that can help you to collect customer feedback, including NPS. It simplifies the process of identifying your ‘Detractors’, and allows you to leverage their feedback and insights to transform them into your ‘Promoters’, ultimately enhancing the overall customer experience for all.