How businesses spin customer complaints into PR gold

Customer complaints used to be something that businesses wanted to deal with privately. But a growing number of companies have chosen to publicize customer complaints as a way to differentiate themselves or respond to the criticism.

Most recently, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema made public a voicemail left by an irate (and perhaps slightly intoxicated) customer by putting it in a new anti-texting PSA (warning: R-rated language) airing at the theater.

Alamo Drafthouse posted the meandering voicemail on the company‘s blog this week and it became a viral hit, generating thousands of comments on the blog and more than a million hits on YouTubeCNN‘s Anderson Cooper even called Alamo’s CEO Tim League a “great American hero” for the theater’s zero tolerance of texting.  

The decision is pretty daring, using an angry customer’s ranting to highlight how the company differentiates itself from other cinemas. A quirky chain of nine theaters mostly in Texas, the Alamo Drafthouse offers customers chef-prepared dinners and a beverage with their side of cinema. The theaters show big movie releases, but also offer a wide array of independent movies and campy events such as Grease sing-alongs.

Pizza delivery chain Domino’s, known more for their convenience than their quality, used customer complaints of crust tasting like cardboard in a high profile advertising campaign to promote  improvements to the pizza. The company then delivered the reformulated pizzas to the homes of customers who had harshly criticized Domino’s during a focus group and filmed their favorable reactions to the new pizzas.    

Spotlighting customer complaints is a bold move, but the public appreciates candor and can reward companies who take the risk. Domino’s same-store sales in the US grew 10 percent in 2010 following the campaign. Similarly, Alamo’s plans to open in new markets may be accelerated by a national splash of recognition.


Photo by Tim Patterson, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license.
Linnea Kirgan

Linnea Kirgan is an industry editor for First Research/Hoover's, covering retail and consumer topics. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more articles by Linnea Kirgan.


  1. supply chain management says:

    Interesting idea… This day in age when almost all complains end up on the internet anyway, businesses might as well find a way to use these complaints to their advantage. Thanks for posting!

  2. Linnea Kirgan says:

    Thanks for the comment. You make a good point that most of the complaints about a company are typically already out in a public forum via the Internet. Savvy companies will identify a potential opportunity to address the concerns in a public way that places the company in a positive light.

  3. I found just what I was needed, and it was entteriainng!

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