Ted Hickman

How to handle negative feedback about your business

It’s a universal truth that receiving bad feedback is painful. The truth is, however hard you try, there will always be customers whose experience with your company isn’t as positive as you’d hoped. However, listening to customer feedback is crucial for business growth.

Below, we look at some of the steps to take to help you handle negative feedback about your business.

  1. Listen

The first thing you need to do when getting bad feedback is to listen. While it’s easier to bury your head in the sand or dismiss bad reviews or scathing comments, you need to hear your customer out.

Listening carefully without interruption allows you to not only gain a better understanding of the issue but it also helps you to gauge the accuracy of the complaint, comment or review.

When receiving bad feedback face-to-face or on the phone, try to use active listening. Show that you’re listening by nodding or making verbal cues, and try not to look or sound distracted while they’re speaking. You can also repeat the customer’s comments back to them by saying things like:

  • ‘OK, so as I understand it, you…’
  • ‘It sounds like what you’re saying is…’
  • ‘I understand that you’re having issues with…’

If the negative comments are coming from review sites or appearing on your website, this gives you a little more time to create a considered response, but you should still incorporate phrases that demonstrate your understanding of the issue within your official reply.

2. Don’t delete it, don’t ignore it

One of the worst (and most tempting) things you can do with negative feedback is to delete it, especially if it’s on your website or appears in search engines. However, this leaves a very sour taste in the hands of the reviewer.

Interestingly, research by The Harris Survey found that of the customers who received an official response after posting a negative comment or review, 33% then went on to post a positive review, and 34% deleted the original negative review. Incredibly, 18% of people who got a response from the company after leaving a bad review went on to become loyal customers, who made additional purchases from the same company.

This means that by leaving your bad reviews where they are and responding effectively, you may be able to turn around two-thirds of these around, and even drive customer loyalty and advocacy in some cases.

3. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

While it’s difficult, try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It’s easy to get frustrated and feel defensive when someone says something bad about your business, and especially so if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. However, it’s still important to empathise with their complaint, and you can do this by putting yourself in their shoes and imagining how you would feel in the same situation.

4. Stay away from the blame game

Harsh critiques can be even more annoying if the customers themselves have caused the issue, or if you’re dealing with the nth complaint that day about the same thing. Try to take your feelings out of the equation, and refrain from laying blame with the customer or with other departments.

Even if the issue is the customer’s fault, there should be steps that your business can take to reduce this happening in the future, improving your customer journey and the customer experience for everyone.

5. Apologise

You might not feel like saying sorry, but an apology can go a long way. Used properly, an effective apology can also demonstrate that you’ve listened and understood the feedback. By saying ‘we’re sorry that you’ve had problems with…’, you’re able to apologise and acknowledge the customer’s feedback.

Research has shown that only 13% of businesses who respond to negative reviews apologise in their response. So by doing so, you’re setting yourself apart from the competition.

6. Communicate

Once you’ve acknowledged and understood the customer’s complaint, the next step is to communicate. All reviews warrant a reply, whether they’re good or bad. But, for bad reviews in particular, it’s even more important to respond.

All companies have different complaint response guidelines, but it’s recommended that you generally follow the following format:

  • Acknowledge the complaint
  • Apologise
  • Outline the steps you’re taking so this doesn’t happen in the future

This outline leaves little room for defensiveness or blame, and the same structure can be implemented easily across your external review sites, your website itself and any other areas where feedback can be left.

Longer-term, if there’s an ongoing issue with your product or service, you can get back in touch with the customer once it’s been fixed. This lets them know that their opinion is valued, that you’ve taken their feedback on board and have made the changes needed in order to improve their experience with you in the future. This is also a good opportunity to re-engage with previous customers and to create a lasting positive impression with unhappy customers.

Getting negative feedback can be a painful process. But by following the steps above, you can create a process that not only allows you to respond to unhappy customers, but that gives you the opportunity to turn their experience around for the better.

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