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Five Complainer-Customer Personas and the Role of Social Media [Plus an Infographic]

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For every complaint expressed, more than 25 go unregistered, according to some studies; rather than complain, the vast majority of those dissatisfied customers simply take their business elsewhere. And the millions, or billions, of lost revenue are rarely recovered.

More and more consumers are now using social media to interact with brands; yet, most customer complaints, questions, and comments remain unanswered by those brands.

Social media is an empowering channel for consumers and gives many of them a voice, because they wouldn't otherwise have the time, resources, or energy to actively log complaints through traditional channels.

Accordingly, social media now plays a unique and increasingly critical role in protecting both brand equity and customer loyalty.

Five Complainer Personas

The customer complaint ecosystem comprises distinct complainer personas. According to a recent article by the University of Florida, brands confront five types of complainers.

To understand how social comes into play, let's look at each complainer type and how to respond to it via social. (Also see the infographic at the end of this article.)

1. The Meek Customer generally will not complain.

Social response: The Meek Customer will only post or comment on Facebook or Twitter when she has really been pushed to the edge. A simple and public "I am sorry" will usually rectify the situation and turn the meek consumer into a passive brand advocate.

2. The Aggressive Customer readily complains, often loudly and at length

Social response: Always take this consumer offline via direct messaging or email. Listen completely and ask, "What else?" Agree that a problem exists, and indicate what will be done to resolve it and when. If you solve the problem for this customer in a quick and efficient manner, you are likely to have a vocal and prolific brand advocate in all social channels.

Dangerous response: Being aggressive in return. The aggressive customer does not respond well to excuses or reasons why the product or service was unsatisfactory.

3. The High-Roller Customer expects the absolute best and is willing to pay for it. She is likely to complain in a reasonable manner, unless she's a hybrid of Aggressive Customer.

Social response: The High Roller is interested in results and what you are going to do to recover from the customer service breakdown. Always listen respectfully and actively, questioning carefully to fully determine the cause of the propblem. Quickly and publicly acknowledge the issue online and then go offline to correct the situation. Like the aggressive customer, the high-roller customer is not interested in excuses, and she is likely to purchase additional products and services if treated well online and offline.

4. The Opportunist Customer's goal is not to get the complaint satisfied but, rather, to win by getting something the customer is not entitled to receive. A constant and repetitive "not good enough" response to efforts to satisfy this customer is a sure indicator of an opportunist.

Social response: Remain unfailingly objective. Use accurate, quantified information to back up your response, whether publicly on Facebook or Twitter. Be sure any adjustment you make is in keeping with what the organization would normally do under the circumstances. Consider asking, "What can I do to make things right?" after the first "not good enough." These types of customers are very likely to want to take conversations offline, because in most cases the community will step up and defend the brand if the opportunist is obviously trying to get something for nothing.

5. The Chronic Complainer Customer is never satisfied; something is always wrong. This customer's mission is to whine. Yet, she is your customer, and as frustrating as she can be, she cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Social response: Extraordinary patience is required, and a dialogue with her should never take place through social channels. One must listen carefully and completely and never get angry. A sympathetic ear, a sincere apology, and an honest effort to correct the situation are likely to be the most productive. Unlike opportunists, most chronic complainer customers will accept and appreciate your efforts to make things right; she wants an apology and appreciates it when you listen. Overall, she tends to be a good customer (in spite of her constant complaining) and will tell others about your positive response to her complaints.

Your Customer Interactions via Social

Social media differs from more traditional media in that interactions with customers are direct (i.e., one-to-one) yet widely visible to others, and therefore the potential for massive reputational impact is very real.

The organizations that truly grasps that fact, and therefore use customer service professionals to interact effectively with customers—will win the customer retention race.

No matter what the customer type, keep these rules in mind when interacting with them via comments on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels:

  1. Be human. Tell them your name, show them your profile, and always address them by their name.
  2. Show empathy. Saying "I am sorry" both publicly and privately goes a long way. Your legal team may object to your doing so, but it's critical that you validate the feelings that the customer is having at that moment.
  3. Answer within minutes, not days, particularly on weekends. Staff for a 24/7-response team and use tools that will enable you to effectively manage volume.
  4. Set up an approval process and built trust internally. Empower your team to answer questions quickly with pre-approved content and tools that enable approvals to be handled through multiple channels.

Whether meek or aggressive, customers are more empowered than ever to write reviews, tweet, or post to your Facebook wall, and they expect you to listen and respond.

For many companies, social media is an added responsibility on top of what is an already very long list. But ignoring or minimizing its importance can have disastrous consequences. Taking just a few minutes to respond can move the needle on positive customer engagement and, ultimately, retention.


Kepner, Karl, Wysocki, Allan, "FRE class discussions for AEB 4424" (Human Resource Management in Agribusiness). University of Florida. Article published in 2010.

Albrecht, Karl. At America's Service: How Your Company Can Join the Customer Service Revolution. Warner Books. May 1995.

5 types of social customer complainers

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Susan Marshall is senior director of social media products at ExactTarget, a global provider of cross-channel digital marketing software-as-a-service solutions.

LinkedIn: Susan Marshall

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  • by Amy Wed Mar 20, 2013 via web

    Thank you! I needed this be able to help our sub-companies understand what to do with negative posts. Thank you Thank you!

  • by Michael Lowenstein Wed Mar 20, 2013 via web

    I take some issue with the statistics presented. Multiple relationship research studies on this topic repeatedly show that most b2c customers will not complain over a negative experience, and that a significant percentage of b2b customers also will not complain: As a result, it's incumbent on all companies to proactively generate complaints so that they can act on a full, and prioritized, inventory of key experience and relationship issues.

  • by D. Anthony Miles Wed Mar 20, 2013 via mobile

    This is a very interesting article. I'm doing an article on psychopath customers. I find similar behavioral traits. After spending 13 years in retail this is only a few types that you have to deal with.

    The customer isn't always right. Customers sometimes bring their psychotic behavior to social media and traditional retail establishments. It's really bad in retail. Some customers think just because they are speeding their money in your business they get a license to act like a jerk.

    We live in dangerous times in this day of reputation management and viral marketing. Its dangerous because bad customers can use social media to lie and tell mistruths about a business and hurt their sales. This is practically social media terrorism.

    Great article

  • by N.M. Yap Thu Mar 21, 2013 via web

    I find this a very well written article, structured and clear, informational as well as clear to-do's / not-to-do's

  • by Jamie Mon Mar 25, 2013 via web

    Great breakdown. I've worked in the foodservice industry before and the same strategies are very helpful! Having been on all sides of it, I cannot stand seeing opportunist customers on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds because I get flashbacks of horrid customers trying to get free things out of us for the littlest (and exaggerated) things.

    I am definitely one of the meek customers and only complain when things are completely messed up (not just a simple mistake anyone could make) and ruin my experience (which takes a lot), or if I know it will effect a customer besides myself and want to warn them. And if customer service is apologetic and honest, like this guide advises, I decline anything free they offer me and give good reviews. It works!

  • by Jodi Beuder Wed Apr 10, 2013 via web

    Great article and infographic. Customer Service Departments MUST focus on the comments and other activity taking place in the company's social media outlets. The message here about how to react to each type of social media customer is terrific. What is surprising is WHO is using Social Media to communicate their preferences, their comments and complaints about brands, companies, products, etc. My colleague wrote about social networking is paramount to Customer Service improvement:

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