Five Best Practices For Responding Negative Customer Feedback

June 22, 2010


It’s a great question that came up over dinner with a few of my business owner friends. When customers express their opinions on Yelp or Twitter and other networks, who within your organization should respond to negative comments? Should it be the owner, the manager, PR, the marketing department? My answer is simple. A social media savvy person with great communication skills, and here’s the key…who is not emotionally attached.

The last part excludes most business owners and the people who create the product. When you’re emotionally attached it’s hard to be neutral. It’s “my baby” cries the proprietor. “How dare you insult my food” cries the chef. When it comes down to it opinion is perception and preference mixed with emotion. And when emotion is involved in discussing issues:

Emotion + Emotion = Arguing

That’s the last thing we want others to see happening in a conversation with your brand on Twitter. Or for the person on the other end (right or wrong) to walk away feeling after posting a dissatisfied Yelp review. Their opinions affect others opinions and everybody is watching. One wrong jerk can lose you five customers. One happy jerk can gain you ten. Want to put a few dollar signs on your emotion?

Here are some tips for managing feedback from a neutral place:

#1 The world is watching. Respond in the same medium.

Then take it offline. If you receive a complaint on Twitter or let’s say in a comment on your blog post the world is watching and the best way to show off your amazing customer service is to respond publicly in the same medium. We want watchers to see the conversation play out with the brand responding in a positive tone. Even if you did respond privately, the perception to the rest of the world is that the brand didn’t respond and therefor doesn’t care. The key is to provide a way to take the conversation one-on-one in your public response. A general example: “I’m sorry you feel that way. We’d like to hear more about it please email or call so we can help you.” Or if on Twitter “…DM us with…”

#2 It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong.

Acknowledge the person’s feedback. This doesn’t mean admitting they are right, just simply acknowledge it. When your first response is correcting them or combating their feedback with facts – even if you win you will lose. Remember their feedback is based on perception and you can’t argue for example the feeling that someone was rude to them.

#3 Stop drinking your own Kool Aid. Investigate and validate.

No matter how wonderful you think your product or service is the fact is, they might be right. There could be issues you’re not aware of that are developing or have gone unseen. Your customers are your eyes and ears for your brand/product/company while you’re away, in denial (e.g. drinking your own Kool-Aid) or oblivious. If an individual’s complaint is factual go back, validate them and provide a resolution or make good. While looking into issues one-on-one is advised, when considering making changes in your company or making a big investment look at trends. The best way to understand the scale of the issue is to measure and benchmark reputation on an ongoing basis. Someone shouldn’t be fired based on one customer complaint.

#4 Be grateful.

Good or bad the feedback you receive from customers and stakeholders (yes employees matter too) is a gift because it’s the best kind of data you can collect for continuous improvement. Have you heard of customer insights? That’s what your getting. Thank them for the feedback and welcome it good or bad. In fact provide as many ways possible to collect it online and offline.

#5 You can’t please 100% of people all of the time.

That’s all. There will be times when there is no pleasing someone. Accept it and focus your energy on your core customer.


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