The right way to respond to negative customer feedback

Pouring your heart and soul into your business goes hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship. Many of us exhaust all of our time, energy and effort (often over many years) as we build our ‘baby’ from an idea into a reality. But seeing negative customer feedback in the form of a bad review can cut to the bone.


Of course, you’re going to get defensive, right?


Responding in the heat of the moment leads to an emotional reply, which is the exact opposite of what you need. Plus, if you handle it the wrong way you could find yourself on the wrong side of a viral campaign to boycott your business, as what your customers write about your business online will scare off future prospects. Much like the guys at Thousand OaksNinja City Kitchen and Bar and of course who could ever forget the story of Amy’s Baking Co. (which recently closed down).

The power of social media means you need to reign in your temper when you’re dealing with unhappy customers. “Even if you do get negative feedback, you can turn it into a positive by engaging in a constructive way and showing that you’re a genuine business,” advises Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group. Bad reviews are part of doing business, but you need to mitigate the damages and resist feeding the fire.

Here’s how.



One piece of negative customer feedback isn’t the end of the world, and if you respond with both respect and intelligence, you can actually win-over an unhappy customer. But doing this effectively when it’s happening to you is far harder. Before you reply in full-on-rage-mode, take a breather. Get off the computer and go for a walk, have a coffee or whatever it is you need to come back into balance. Never, ever, reply in the heat of the moment, as you’ll regret the comments you make once the rational part of your brain kicks in again.



Forget who is right, and for the love of god do not ignore any criticising comments. You’re never going to ‘win’ so put your priority to damage control. Your goal is to form a calm and civilized response that addresses their concerns, even if you did nothing wrong. It doesn’t matter if they were demanding, rude or difficult, you need to take the higher road. What you write in reply demonstrates to this customer, and every other potential customer reading the review, that you’re willing to improve the situation. Everything in your response must be geared around your willingness to help your customers.



The speed at which information travels today is intense, and customers likewise expect similar service. We’re all constantly monitoring our personal social accounts, and entrepreneurs need to do the same for their businesses. Be prompt in your replies. Data from Edison Research highlights that almost half of the customers who raise a complaint on social media expect a response within 60 minutes. Just enough time for you to see it, spend 10 minutes cooling down, and then reply.



Be polite and apologetic in your response, and thank the customer for their feedback. This goes for both positive and negative customer feedback. A little bit of gratitude can help demonstrate that your business values feedback, no matter how candid, in order to improve. Listening to your customers is the first step in demonstrating you actually care about them.



If your business truly made a mistake, own up to it and say you’re sorry. Often, a bad review is a reasonable response to a customer who has had a bad experience at your business. Be honest with yourself and think about what really went wrong. There must have been something, right? Feedback from your customers often hits right to the crux of the problems you face, and is the most important feedback you can get to start making improvements. It’s valuable stuff.



The best way to respond to a customer complaint is to address their problem directly, and let them know it’s being improved. If you can, let them know how. Perhaps you’re bringing on a new staff member to speed up their service times, or whatever it is. Explain what’s being done. Just this reassurance from top management that you’re working on it and a commitment that their next experience with your business will be better can turn your critics into your biggest fans. So long as you make the changes, that is.



Once you’ve apologized and assured the customer you’re taking steps to fix the problem, be upfront and ask them for a second chance. You’ve got the opportunity now to convert a hater into an advocate for your business, and it’s also a good exercise to ensure that you really have made the required changes. After all, they might not have been the only customer to face the problem. Ruby Newell-Legner author of “Understanding Customers” found that a typical business will only ever hear from 4% of their dissatisfied customers.



Put a system in place so your business never misses the opportunity to learn from what your customer are saying. You can track alerts automatically whenever your business is mentioned online via Google Alerts, ReviewPush, and ReviewTrackers, so there really is no excuse for failing to reply. Plus, you will never know how many potential customers you have lost, because they never contacted you in the first place based on the reviews they read. Own your online presence, and make it work for your business.



Depending on your industry, make sure you claim the relevant profiles on the review sites that make the most sense. If you’re running a hotel, you’re probably going to want to be on TripAdvisor, or if you have a restaurant, claim your Yelp profile. This makes it far easier to respond to the customers who have spent their time to write a review. Most of the major sites allow you to do this for free, where you can also include summaries of your business, photos and of course, the rating level your customers believe your establishment deserves.


It doesn’t take much to monitor your online reputation, and respond appropriately to every customer who visits your business. Just be sure to do it the right way. Apologize and address the issues that have led to negative customer feedback, solve any problems, and focus on the most important step, building raving fans for your business.