Love Those Lemons: When They Complain, Make Lemonade


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Negative customer feedback is a lot like biting into a lemon — the bitterness is hard to love — unless you give the lemon a good squeeze and some sugar, and transform it into refreshing and healthy lemonade. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, so those lemons — complaints and low survey ratings — are indeed essential ingredients to improving customer experiences.

To squeeze your voice of the customer lemons into useful juice, you’ll want to (1) make it easy for customers to give you early warnings of their dissatisfaction, (2) strive to see the whole picture of the customers’ experience, and (3)analyze root causes.

To add sugar, you’ll want to put a positive spin on your your new-found knowledge of dissatisfiers and their root causes. After all, what better warnings could you have for ways to manage and nurture your weakest links? Working on the root causes of dissatisfiers is the best way of (1) migrating ambivalent and at-risk customers into a reliable source of profit, (2) preventing your brand fans from stumbling upon your weak areas and becoming disillusioned, and (3) building brand equity by delivering company-wide on your brand promise.

The average American company loses half its customers within five years. How can your company achieve sustained growth with image-building alone? By addressing the customer group giving you “lemon feedback” you can turn negative word-of-mouth trends to sustainable competitive advantages with a ripple effect on your entire customer base. This internal branding effort aligns what’s going on inside the company with what’s being promised to customers.
It adds customer experience substance to your value proposition.

On a hot day, a cool drink of lemonade is just the thing to re-energize. Similarly, in the heat of competition, lemonade is just what the doctor ordered to provide a compelling customer experience with your brand.

Lynn Hunsaker

Lynn Hunsaker is 1 of 5 CustomerThink Hall of Fame authors. She built CX maturity via customer experience, strategic planning, quality, and marketing roles at Applied Materials and Sonoco. She was a CXPA board member and SVAMA president, taught 25 college courses, and authored 6 CXM studies and many CXM handbooks and courses. Her specialties are B2B, silos, customer-centric business and marketing, engaging C-Suite and non-customer-facing groups in CX, leading indicators, ROI, maturity. CX leaders in 50+ countries benefit from her self-paced e-consulting: Masterminds, Value Exchange, and more.


  1. A complaint is someone telling you “Hey! Listen! I love you! Could you please fix the problem ASAP?”. Otherwise, most of unsatisfied customers will simply go to one of your competitors without any notice. So, as Lynn mentionned, go for it and try to get those declarations of love as early as possible. It will help keep your customers happy and give you precious feedbacks for processes improvement in your company and/or your supply chain.

    Luc Gendron

  2. Lynn,

    I agree absolutely that it is critical to recover valued at-risk customers and to learn from analysis of complaints. This does imply that there needs to be a systematic approach to complaints management. The new(ish) international standard, ISO 10002, offers clear guidance on how to design and implement a successful complaints-handling policy and process, and our research which featured in the blog identified here provides statistical evidence of a link between complaints-handling excellence and customer retention.

    Francis Buttle


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