The Anatomy of a Detractor

Have you ever had one of those experiences as a customer where you walk away swearing to never return? Where nothing about how you were treated or what you were provided seemed anywhere near acceptable?

I think everyone can relate to an experience like that. In fact, some of you have probably had many experiences like that unfortunately.

Can you remember that feeling? Can you remember the lengths you were willing to go to make sure that your negative experience was heard by anyone with ears?

That’s what it feels like to be a detractor.

To be fair, what I described above is likely a strong detractor (0-1 on an NPS scale), but just keep that feeling in your mind when your customers identify themselves as detractors to your business.

If word of mouth recommendations and referrals are the lifeblood of any business, negative reviews and negative word-of-mouth are the cancer. And, unfortunately they spread fast and with far more impact.

[bctt tweet=”If WOM and referrals are the lifeblood of any business, negative reviews are the cancer.”]

According to a survey of over 3,200 random consumers, 75% of them had indicated that they be likely to share a negative experience with their friends and colleagues, while only 42% of them said they’d recommend a product or service that they enjoyed.

What it comes down to is that negative experiences can drastically outweigh the impact that positive experiences can have. That means that for every detractor you have, you need several promoters to advocate for the brand.

This is one of the primary reasons why any positive NPS score (anything over 0) is considered a “Good” score by NPS standards. Based on the calculation, it simply means that you have more promoters than you have detractors. The more that gap widens, the more positive bottom line impact and growth you’re going to see.

Any NPS score of 0 or above is considered good by NPS standards.
Any NPS score of 0 or above is considered good by NPS standards.

We spend quite a bit of time talking about the best ways to leverage your promoters for growth and how to reduce or eliminate your churn by identifying and managing your detractors proactively, but what do those two groups of people really look like?

A few weeks ago we dove deeper into the Anatomy of a Promoter to give you a first hand look at their habits and the potential impact they can have on your business (more than you might think).

This week we’re going to dive deeper into detractors — what they do and their potential impact on your bottom line and overall reputation.

In order to properly manage your detractors, it’s helpful to know what one looks like in real life.

About two years ago my wife and I got a letter in the mail from our (then) cable company, Charter Communications. The letter stated that our contract was soon coming up for renewal and that our new rate would be increasing by 70%.

Having been a customer with them for the previous eight years, we knew that the rate increase was just code for it was time to call and pretend to cancel until they lowered our rate back to normal. Always a pain in the rear, but seemed to be the norm of being a cable customer.

The next day I made a call and asked to speak with the customer retention department (side note: if this is an actual department in your company, you might have a churn issue). Having not received the answer I was looking for from the first person I spoke with, I asked to speak with a supervisor (again, just a part of the normal process).

To my surprise, the supervisor was unable to help. I was told that if we wanted to continue our cable service with Charter, we would in fact need to pay 70% more — for the same package we’ve had for the previous two years.

I threatened to leave, giving them one last attempt to “retain” our business, saying if we leave we won’t be back. I got nothing.

Long story short, we ended up cutting cable all together and switched to Netflix and Hulu exclusively. It stung at first, but I get why companies need to increase rates and quite frankly, it was a blessing in disguise.

But this is where things got ugly.

About two weeks after cancelling our service, we started to receive phone calls from Charter on a weekly basis, offering us deals to come back. Saying they’ll waive the installation fee, discount our rates, etc.

I mean, look, I appreciated the offers, but where was this flexibility before we went through all of this hassle?

At the beginning I was polite in declining their offers and would explain each time that we weren’t coming back. But the calls kept coming and the Charter people kept not listening. And, eventually I cracked. I not only vowed to never give them a dime of my money again, but I also shared my experience as a post on LinkedIn. That post was then syndicated to Combined, it was shared nearly 1,000 times and continues to live online and accessed via search for the rest of eternity.

Bad Customer Service Article
My bad experience with Charter was eventually featured on LinkedIn

I was and continue to be a detractor of Charter.

Now, had Charter originally not increased my rate and/or stopped calling me afterwards, would I have recommended them or written a positive post? Most likely not. But, I also would not have shared a negative experience with 1000’s of people either.

This is the toxicity of a detractor and the reason why it’s important to focus on your them first when you’re responding to feedback.

When working with your detractors, there are a few things you should know:

They are likely to churn (leave you) very soon. This may seem pretty obvious, but remember that a detractor is anyone that scores you up to 6 on the NPS scale. While the 0’s, 1’s and even 2’s may seem like obvious unhappy customers with one foot out the door, the less obvious are the ones that score you a 5 and a 6.

NPS Scale
Detractors are anyone that scores you a 6 or below.

What you need to know is that statistically speaking, up to 40 – 50% of your detractors are going to leave you within the next 90 days (or sooner). If your goal is to reduce churn, it’s absolutely critical that you respond to them as quickly as possible (meaning immediately) and address their concerns.

Detractors speak louder than promoters. As I had pointed out above, detractors are nearly twice as likely to share a negative experience with others than a promoter is to share a positive experience.


Unfortunately the news gets worse. Psychology Today had written an article that compiled the results of a few different studies in regards to how humans receive bad information versus good. The studies had shown that we care more about the threat of bad things than we do about the prospect of good things.

Simply put, one bad experience shared by a detractor is capable of far outweighing one good experience shared by a promoter.

Over passives, detractors are more likely to be your next promoters. That may sound strange to hear, but generally speaking, your strongest detractors are not all that dissimilar from your strongest promoters. They are both vocal and passionate consumers of your product. The only difference being that, for detractors, there is something missing from their experience.

Remember that detractors want what you have to offer and they desperately want it to match their needs. Your job is to hopefully meet those needs. Once you do, they are most likely to be your next biggest advocate.


While nobody wants detractors within their business, every company has them (even those considered World Class by NPS standards, such as Apple). The key to managing your detractors is to quickly listen and respond to their needs. If they are unreasonable or cannot be met, something as simple has having meaningful dialog can go a long way in preventing a PR disaster or a nasty online review at the very least.

Give a try to discover who your detractors are, why they feel they way they do and what you can do to decrease their likelihood of leaving.


3 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Detractor”

  1. Dug this post quite a bit! Went for a second read of it. Cool contrast to your post on the Anatomy of a Promoter as well.

    “your strongest detractors are not all that dissimilar from your strongest promoters. They are both vocal and passionate consumers of your product.”

    Some hard hitting truth right there!

    1. Really appreciate that, Tim. Most people assume that detractors have one foot out the door, but the reality is that many of them are looking for reasons not to leave.

      Glad to hear the post hit home for you.

  2. Pingback: What Papa John's and Domino's Can Show Us About The Dangers of Negative Customer Sentiment - Blog

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