OXON HILL, Md. — Do you have a few customers who aren’t happy with you? Maybe a handful who gives your company a less-than-stellar review on websites such as Yelp or Angie’s List?

Good, says marketing expert and author Jay Baer of Convince & Convert LLC. You can learn a lot more from your critics than those who praise you. That was the message Baer delivered Feb. 12 at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America’s 2018 conference here outside Washington, D.C.

Baer’s session, “Hug Your Haters,” based on his 2016 book of the same name, explained the gift that cranky customers are giving you. They’re a reality check, he said.

“Eighty percent of businesses say they deliver ‘superior’ customer service,” Baer said. “Eight percent of their customers agree.”

In the eyes of your clients, you’re probably not quite as good as you think, Baer added.

“There’s two or three more levels of ‘amazing,’” he said. “We just have to get to it.”

Small bumps in your numbers of happy customers can yield big satisfaction dividends.

“Even a 5 percent increase in customer retention increases profits 25 percent or more,” Baer said.

The best companies want to know what they’re doing wrong. They seek out negativity and criticism. That can be hard for people at family-owned businesses to hear, because they’re more likely to take such comments personally, he said. However, it’s essential. Besides, “Praise is overrated,” he added. “We already know what we’re good at.”

Complaints are essential, he said. Unfortunately, they’re relatively rare — something that might be easy to forget if you’re staring at several one-star online reviews about your company. For every 100 unhappy customers, only five will take the time to tell you about it. That’s why they’re a great opportunity. You can fix the problem.

Encourage your HVAC service technicians to ask customers to post online reviews after a visit. Lots of positive reviews will overcome a handful of negative ones. Don’t ask websites to take down a negative review. Most won’t. Instead, ask to reply. However, don’t get angry and don’t get into a back-and-forth public spat. Post replies no more than twice. After that, ask to continue the discussion offline or via private email.

If a customer complains directly via one of your social media channels, respond quickly. Many people expect a response within an hour.

And if you have a few unhappy customers, it’s actually better for your business. Would-be customers who go online to find a company are more likely to believe the good reviews if a few bad ones are mixed in. No company is perfect and one that appears that way will be suspicious.

“To get fewer complaints, you first must get more complaints,” Baer said. “Service is your only advantage that can’t be stolen.”