Here are some signs you might have a few Detractors in your customer base.

  1. There are websites dedicated to the humiliation and destruction of your brand, like this one or this one or this one.
  2. Your customers park backhoes across your employee parking entrance, like this guy
  3. Your customers publicly destroy their purchase with a sledgehammer, and invite passersby to help, like this guy
  4. A few of them circle a number between zero and six on the Net Promoter Score money question: How likely are you to recommend us to a colleague of a friend?

Some marketers would call in the lawyers. Others, would spray discounts and trinkets all over the place. But not you. You know that Detractors, like their happier counterparts, the Promoters, are not something you charge like a Walmart on Black Friday. They need to be considered.

In the imperfect art that is Net Promoter Score, Detractors are a special punishment. Not only aren’t they Promoters, but each one of them loses you points on the Customer Karma Wheel. The temptation to have them killed is outweighed only by the suspicion Exitthat you can’t expense it and by the dim hope that you can turn that sow’s ear into a dog treat.

Before you go off to convert the people who are burning your CEO in effigy into your BFFs, you need to think about whether or not you even want them to be filling in your NPS rating to begin with. Time to take a good hard look at the haters.

This is where you need to do a big old dive into the rest of your data, because just as there are many ways for your customers to write songs about your billing systems, there are many ways for you to force them to do so. You need to find out why these people don’t like you. I mean really find out. Don’t just settle for the first answer you find; go deep. Most B2B customers will forgive your first few mistakes, so you have to screw things up more than a few ways to get some of them into snit big enough to burn you.

Once you understand why they are stealing your happy numbers, you need to decide what to do about it.

First up, there are probably a bunch of them you don’t want anyway. Oprah fires her friends; you fire your most hateful customers. Face it, if they’re unhappy enough to say mean things, and send you fecal matter by mail, then you should cede them to the competition.

Then there are the customers who will rat you out on a whim. One little mistake, one messed up project and, boom, they’re rating you a two and making things gummy. Do you want to hang about with these people? Well if they have enough revenue you sure do. Time to go fix things. But if they are going to be whinier than a vegan at Christmas with no upside, exercise that mutual termination clause and be shut of them.

The silver lining in this is neither who you save nor who you cut loose, it’s what you learn. That’s why Detractors are your best friends, even as they are setting fires in your elevators. The things that upset them today, will upset your Promoters tomorrow, and there is much to learn here.

Before you throw your unhappy campers at your save team, make sure you take a long look at them individually and collectively and learn what you can. They may not be very nice, but the best teachers rarely are.

Next week: don’t ignore those scary neutrals.