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negative feedback

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to please everyone. Need proof? Just think of all the sad people out there who don’t like chocolate. If even the sweetest treat on planet Earth has haters, how can you, a mere mortal, expect to win everyone over?

While not all negative comments are avoidable, there are proactive steps you can take to prevent some of them. For the others, there are ways to respond and fix the problem at hand — and maybe even win points with current or future customers at the same time.

We’ll start with a few ways you can ward off some of the negativity and then jump in with what to do if negative feedback happens.

Stop negativity in its tracks

Before you start burning the sage, there are other ways to prevent negative spirits from filling your customers with complaints. Here are a few steps to take:

  • Be transparent.

    Will their product or service be delayed? Or have you changed the way you do business? Surprises of this nature are generally not a good thing. Let them know what’s going on before it becomes a problem.

  • Keep them updated.

    Simply sharing information with your customers is often enough to keep them satisfied. Send them regular newsletters that include company updates, changes, or information that will keep them in the know. For example, when the subscription-based movie service MoviePass relaunched with lower prices last year, they were overwhelmed with subscribers. That meant months of waiting for their membership cards. To reduce complaints, they sent regular emails explaining the problem and giving an estimated delivery date. This is a combo of transparency and sending updates.

  • Talk to them consistently.

    negative feedback
    Sending regular newsletters and surveys not only helps to engage your subscribers, but it also gives them the chance to reach out and give you feedback. Always include your contact information in email newsletters, and include a call-to-action like “Have a question? Contact us!” to encourage them to reach out. That allows you to spot potential issues before they snowball into something bigger.

Even if you incorporate those techniques, you’re bound to receive negative feedback or complaints at some point. And that’s okay. Your level of customer success doesn’t depend on what they say but rather how you handle it. If you go about it the right way, you can actually turn a negative situation into a positive one for both sides.

Always respond…after a breather

You’re passionate about your organization, so it can be difficult to hear someone say something bad about it — especially if you’re the one in charge. So before you respond to the feedback, take a few minutes (or hours) to cool down and collect your thoughts. There’s nothing worse than spewing off an emotional response that you’ll regret minutes later.

Step away from your computer, take a short walk, or go grab a coffee. You want to make sure you’re thinking clearly before you respond.

If you’re receiving a complaint in person or over the phone, you might not be able to step away from the situation. However, you can take time to listen (more on that below) to make sure you truly understand the issue before coming up with a solution. And if you feel yourself getting heated — or aren’t the right person to respond — let them know someone will call them back shortly to resolve the problem.

You don’t want to make the situation worse with your tone or demeanor, so take the time to create the best outcome for both of you. And remember: The conversation should never become an argument.

Bonus: If a complaint comes in the form of a negative online review, how you respond is even more important because both current and potential customers can read what you wrote. Think of your response as a marketing tool. Keep comments positive and personalize them for each review: A generic, copy-paste response won’t work.

Two ears, one mouth

Being a good listener is a learned skill that takes some practice. So whether you’re speaking with a customer or reading a written email or comment, be mindful and listen to what they are (and aren’t) saying. For many, simply being heard and acknowledged can resolve the problem.

negative feedback

Here are ways to show you’re an awesome listener:

  • Get the facts.

    Ask what caused the issue and listen without interrupting. Read between the lines to figure out exactly what they’re upset about. They might say they are upset about new changes you’ve implemented, but may just be frustrated that they were never told about them beforehand.


  • Acknowledge the issue.

    Repeat back to them what you’ve learned about the complaint. This shows them you were listening and ensures you understood and have the facts straight.

  • Take responsibility.

    If your organization is in the wrong, admit it. Tell them you’re sorry for what happened and any issues it caused them. People can tell if you’re being sincere, so mean what you say. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, it’s still a good idea to apologize for their troubles.

  • Offer a resolution.

    Use the information you’ve gathered to give them the best solution that addresses their negative feedback. For example, if you failed to provide a service to their satisfaction, give them a refund or discount. It’s best to have what you can offer figured out ahead of time to eliminate any guesswork in the moment.

  • Thank them.

    They’re actually doing you a favor. For each customer complaint you receive, there are 26 other angry ones who didn’t say anything. And you can only fix what you know about. So thank them for sharing their feedback and letting you know about the problem.

If you impress them with your listening skills, you might even be able to turn your complainers into loyal customers who tout your praises. They’ve proven they want to engage with you, so they could end up being a benefit to your marketing efforts.

Are customers always right?

negative feedback

No matter the industry you’re in, you’ve probably been told that the customer is always right. While that’s not exactly true, the idea behind it produces a customer-centric approach, and we can get behind that.

That mindset encourages you to do everything in your (reasonable) power to fix their problem and make them happy. Sometimes that can be as simple as giving them a refund, discount, or apology. You’d be surprised how quickly that will turn a frown upside down.

But then there are the other customers. You know who we’re talking about. The ones you can’t make happy no matter how hard you try. Maybe they misunderstood one of your policies, refuse to accept your apology, or are just impossible to please. They can take a toll on you and your team if you let them.

When they reach that point or actually start to cost you money, it might be time to let them go. That might seem extreme, but not all customers are a good fit for your business. Thank them for using your service or product, and explain that your company can’t meet their needs (instead of blaming them). You can offer them a refund (ex. last month’s fee) as you part ways, which can help leave them with a favorable impression of your business.

This is obviously a last resort, but it’s good to have it as an option — for both sanity and the bottom line.

Keep records

Even after you’ve received and responded to the initial complaint, your work isn’t finished quite yet. That’s where your CRM or project management program comes into play. Be sure to keep track of your negative feedback, including who made the complaint, date, the response, if they were satisfied with the result, and any other notes that will help detail the incident.

If your program has the capability, create a drop-down menu of the main complaints you receive — such as delivery issues, product/service didn’t meet expectations, poor customer service, or a bad shopping experience.

Analyze those results over time to get a better understanding of where you need to improve the most to prevent the same issue from happening.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” — Bill Gates

You can also set or assign reminders to customer accounts who have given you negative feedback so you can touch base with them again in a week or two. Send them a follow-up email to see if the issue is resolved and if there’s anything else you can help them with.

Customers want to feel heard, whether that’s through email, social media, in person, or over the phone. Show them you’re there to listen and want to improve their experience with your company or organization. Some good ol’ friendly customer service can go a long way.

What tips do you have for handling negative feedback? Tell us in the comments!

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer based in Nashville, Tenn. Her decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing.


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