Dealing With Negative Feedback

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How to turn every customer complaint into a positive for your company

Have you ever talked to a friend who owns a business, heard them talk about some of their business hiccups, and thought that it was completely clear what they needed to do to fix them? When you told them your advice, did they take it well or get super defensive?

Taking negative feedback isn’t always the easiest. When you have a business you’ve built and a product you believe in, it’s your baby. You love it, and you want to protect it. But closing yourself off to feedback might limit how far your business will grow. This post goes over some strategies of turning negative customer feedback into something useful for your company, and how to reduce them in the long run.

Why bother caring about negative customer reviews?

In a world where most of us use customer reviews to figure out what we’ll buy, what we’ll go see, where we’ll eat, what to download and basically everything else, using positive customer reviews as part of your marketing strategy should be a given.

But what about the ones that aren’t so positive? It’s easy to say “oh they just don’t get it” or to put a negative review on the customer rather than yourself. And that could definitely be the case. Your customer might have had a fluke interaction or just not understood the point of your company - but because 97% of people say customer service is a key part of whether or not they’ll stick with a brand, you have to treat every customer with the kind of service that will keep them coming back.

The customer is always right…..usually

When a customer (or someone who didn’t buy) leaves a bad review, it’s a chance for you to hear exactly what went wrong for someone who is funding (or would be funding) your business. As much as you might be able to theorize about how to close all the loops in your business model, actually hearing it from a real person is an amazing opportunity to learn. When you get negative feedback, ask the following questions:

  1. What part of my supply chain was responsible for handling the issue?
  2. What went wrong? Was it a one-time mistake or was it something that could happen again?
  3. Do I or someone else in my business have the capacity to fix the issue now?
  4. How can we prevent it from happening again in the future?
  5. What does this customer need to get or see in order to be happy or at least de-escalate the situation?

And you know what? Sometimes the customer is straight up wrong. It can be frustrating to see a negative review for something that wasn’t your call, wasn’t up to your company or just isn’t relevant. But customer feedback about something that isn’t your fault is actually a chance to show off your customer service skills and build brand loyalty -- even if it’s not for the same customer. If someone posts publically about you, use the chance to show everyone else how quickly and fairly you’ve assessed the situation and how well you’re handling the issue.

How to respond to negative reviews

Here are a few rules of thumb for responding to negative reviews, whether they were sent directly to you or posted on Facebook, Yelp, Amazon etc.

Get in there, fast

You should aim to respond as soon as you can to a customer complaint, and definitely within a business day. Especially if a customer is using a public forum like Facebook to complain, they are trying to put timing pressure on you. Speed is of the essence before someone sits and stews their bad feelings.

Actually address their concern

Apologize right away, and listen to what they have to say. Your response should be clear, direct and deal with their concern. Don’t try to beat around the bush or brush away responsibility. It’s important to be empathetic as well - even if you don’t necessarily agree with them, they’re clearly experiencing something negative and it’s important to try to figure out why.

Be a human

The most annoying responses are impersonal responses. Make sure to address the customer by their name, use details they’ve given you and write as an actual person would rather than a robot.

Give them more than they expect

It’s important to be generous when responding to customer feedback. Even if you think they won’t come back to your store, offering a gift certificate, freebie, free shipping, rushed order or whatever you think will make them feel valued as a customer.

Ask for feedback on your website

Oftentimes customers are fine emailing you directly with feedback - and that’s way better than having a negative review publicly seen on social media. However, if they don’t see anywhere to send you their complaints, they’ll resort to whatever public profile you have. Purposefully ask for complaints or feedback on your website, and make it clear how to submit it directly to you. This could direct some complaints away from the internet and straight to a rep from your company.

Keep up the bad work

Do not delete negative reviews. It’s so tempting, I know, because you want to keep your average up and want to prevent other people from thinking negatively about your business. Especially when you don’t have that many reviews to start with, one negative can bump your average down. But there’s a risk in taking down a bad review -- that person could see that you didn’t handle the situation, took down their review, and badmouth you in other places too.

This rule doesn’t hold if someone is being clearly inappropriate or using offensive language. If that’s the case, you have every right to moderate their comments and respond to them privately.

Long-term strategies for reducing customer complaints

Make your website as frustration-free as possible

Most complaints come because customers are frustrated with something. Their order didn’t arrive on time; it took forever to reach a customer service rep; your checkout was hard to navigate etc. Optimising your website and making sure it’s easy to use is one of the most important things you can do as an online store owner.

Be super clear about your company policies

A lot of your customer complaints will happen because they didn’t have all the information you do. Try writing up a Frequently Asked Questions page, and policy pages about shipping, returns and privacy information. Make those pages easy to find from your landing and checkout pages, and direct customers to them when they go to your Contact page as a first step.

Build up your base of good customer feedback

The more positive feedback you have, the less impact any negatives will bring to your averages. Encourage your customers to leave reviews by sending them automatic emails through MailChimp, offering incentives like discounts for writing reviews, or reminding them with a package insert.

Make feedback part of your business practice

If you’re not opening up for feedback, always looking for ways to improve from within and actively encouraging the rest of your team to point out problems or ideas, then the only time you’ll be hearing the negatives is from your customers. It’s better to make open feedback sessions about your products and services happen within the company. Try holding regular meetings to check in with your staff, or rewarding them for new ideas that fix problems.

Want more entrepreneurship advice?

Keep up with our blog to learn more about running an ecommerce business. If you have any questions, we’re always happy to hear from you.