No-one likes to receive negative feedback, but like it or not, unfortunately all businesses will encounter unhappy customers from time-to-time. Whether this feedback comes from your online feedback collection system, email, a negative review, a social media post, a phone call, or it’s reported through one of your team members, negative feedback needs to be treated seriously and carefully.
The thing that separates an average business from a great one, is how they respond to unhappy customers. In fact, with a good process in place, customer focussed businesses can often succeed in turning unhappy customers into raving fans.
How can it be done?
Here are the steps to follow when dealing with an unhappy customers.
Firstly, Don’t Panic!
The moment you first become aware of negative feedback is not the time to respond. Yes, you definitely need to act and you should do it quickly, but before jumping in, make sure you’re in the right mindset.
For many business owners, it’s very easy to take any criticism personally as it can feel like a personal attack. This is even more pronounced if the feedback is public – like an online review, tweet, or post on your Facebook page.
Whatever you do though, keep the feedback in perspective and don’t take it to heart. Remember that it’s only one person’s experience and other people seeing this will understand that things can go wrong, even for the best businesses. Once your head is in the right place, make your response your top priority for the day.
Respond Using the Same Channel You Received the Feedback
If you received the feedback from the unhappy customers via social media, your first response needs to be in that same channel. Yes, this means it’s public, and no, you shouldn’t just delete it from your page or block the user!
Even if you know the unhappy customers, responding publicly is a great idea as it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your business’ values and showcase your concern for customers. You should reply to the feedback and apologise unconditionally, while still showing others the best sides of your business. Remember that potential customers will be reading your response and forming opinions based on what you do when things go wrong.
Be Gracious, Apologetic and Keep Your Cool
This can be tricky so take a deep breath and think carefully about what you’re going to say. Even if the aggrieved customer seems to be making unfounded claims, don’t lash out, get personal or argue against their feedback. Remember, this is one of your customers!
Here’s a formula to follow to ensure that you handle their complaint properly;
- Thank the customer for their feedback (remember, it’s always much better to hear about any issues or misperceptions than not)
- Acknowledge their dissatisfaction, even if you disagree with it! You can’t argue with how another person has perceived a situation, if they feel something has gone wrong, it has.
- Acknowledge your role (or at least that of the business) in the problem. Maybe your support fell down, your app wasn’t as clear as it should have been, or you didn’t properly communicate something – whatever it is, take responsibility.
- Explain any steps you are taking to avoid the same situation from happening again.
- Point out some of the positive aspects of your business. Especially if you’re responding publicly, this is a good chance to highlight something positive about your business. (Eg. “We’ve added a lot of features to this area so I realize it can be confusing!”)
- Invite your customer back (preferably encouraging them to contact you personally)
See our sample responses below.
Most negative feedback offers an element of constructive criticism, but occasionally you can strike someone on a rant: someone that seems to have an attitude problem, unreasonable expectations, illogical arguments, or is impossible to please. Don’t stoop to their level – instead apologise, correct any factual errors, and invite them back.
Decide If This Customer Is in Your Target Market
Sometimes complaints come from unhappy customers you never intended to serve. They might be complaining that you don’t have a certain feature, but you didn’t build your product for their use-case. In these situations, you need to first decide whether this a customer you actually want to fight for. If not, follow the steps above but instead of inviting them back, suggest something else that might better suit their needs.
There are also some (rare) cases when customer are so abusive that you might decide you’d rather not have them as a customer (for instance, if they are rude to your team). You can also legitimately decide not to pander to these types of people and respond saying that your team is more important than serving a customer like them! Explain about the types of customers you like to help and the problem you solve. They’ll either go away, or come crawling back to you.
Offer to Make Amends
If your business has genuinely ‘stuffed up’, you should offer to somehow compensate your customer. While you can allude to this publically, we suggest that where possible, you contact the customer directly with some sort of offer to resolve their issue or compensate them for having a bad experience (whether you think their grievances are legitimate or not). Making amends could be in the form of a refund, a free service / product, or some type of special treatment.
With proper handling, often an unhappy customer can turn out to become one of your most loyal fans. I previously founded an online reviews platform and know of lots of examples where, for a very small cost, a business has managed to turn a bad situation into a great one (and yes, the reviewers usually amended their review to state how happy they now were with the business).
Take Feedback Onboard
No, I don’t believe the customer is always right, but if you get a similar complaint several times, chances are you should do something about it. If something’s broken, you need to fix it! So get your head out of the sand and work out what it would take to address the problem. Is it staff training, a change to your marketing/communications, a new fit-out, an improved process, a different supplier, or what? Customer feedback is basically the best kind of market research you can get so use it to your advantage.
Follow Up (Don’t Skip This!)
Once you’ve responded to the negative feedback, perhaps both publicly and privately, don’t let that end your efforts to turn this customer around. Schedule a call for a few days so that you can follow up properly (put it into your daily action list). Tell them how you’ve been thinking about them and wanted to check in with them. Let them know about the steps you’re taking – for example, that you held a team meeting to discuss their issue, or how you’ve put plans in place to build a new feature.
If their grievances weren’t something that would actually warrant any changes, explain why you’ve made that decision but emphasize your concern for them and that you personally wanted to explain the situation to them so that they understood.
Taking this step is the one that’s missed the most often, but it’s also the one that’s most likely to win back the affections of your customer.
If the before unhappy customers is now happy with your business, you can use this opportunity to ask if they’d like to be part of a case study or testimonial. Remember, you can also turn the stories about a customer mishap into a positive blog article or social media post – it’s these kinds of posts that make your business real and relatable.
Encourage Other Customer Feedback
Customer feedback is an incredibly valuable source of information that can help businesses improve on many levels. Some of the ways customer feedback can add value include;
- product development and improvements – eg suggesting new features or changes
- providing quality controls for customer service interactions – eg identifying the need for further training or performance management
- helping to bolster employee morale by providing positive customer feedback to all parts of the organization
- customer communications – eg becoming aware that customers don’t understand or know about certain features available to them
- marketing content – eg ideas for blog articles, social media content and also getting closer to the exact language customers use to describe your product or service
- social proof – eg identifying extremely satisfied customers and requesting testimonials, case studies or reviews
- customer referrals – again, identifying happy customers and asking them for referrals to others they know that might benefit from the product/service
Don’t shy away from encouraging customer feedback – especially on public forums! Often, you’ll actually need to ask your customers for feedback – build this into your scripts and emails so that you get a regular stream of feedback.
Share the positive feedback you receive (anonymize it if necessary), and use it to both promote your business, and also to motivate your team.
Sample Responses to Negative Customer Feedback
Still not sure what to actually write (or say), here’s a couple of examples to help get you started with unhappy customers.
Sample Public Responses to Unhappy Customers:
Thanks very much for your feedback. I am really sorry to hear that you weren’t completely happy with your experience with us. We pride ourselves on providing fair prices and would never recommend works that were not required. Whether an error was made on our part or some miscommunication, I’m not sure. I’d really like the opportunity to discuss this with you further so we can get to the bottom of it. Please contact me and I’ll personally make sure that you’re looked after. Regards, Peter
Thank you for taking the time to let us know about your experience. We strive to provide a really high level of service and especially pride ourselves on providing a product that works for businesses like yours so I was devastated to hear that you weren’t completely happy. I’d love you to give us a second chance, so please, let’s arrange a time to talk so that we can better understand your needs. Joanne
Sample Private Messages in Response to Negative Feedback
Hi again, Further to my public comment, I know you feel let down by our service but I’d really like the opportunity to show you the kind of service we normally provide. We’d therefore like to invite you back for a complimentary full service anytime in the next 6 months (with this car or another). Please just mention this email when booking. I know you won’t be disappointed! Look forward to hearing from you soon. Peter.
Hi there, As I mentioned in my response online, I was very sorry to hear that you were disappointed in our service. I assure you that our development team strives to take utmost care to ensure a smooth data import process – but for some reason this has obviously gone wrong in this instance. I’d really like the chance to rectify this and if you contact me directly, I’ll hook you up with one of our senior developers to get this sorted out. Hope to hear from you soon, Joanne.
When you respond to negative feedback properly, it shows that you’re a business that actually cares about your customers. Be genuine and personable and you’ll soon see that most bad situations can be turned around to everyone’s advantage.
So, ready to start collecting those much needed feedback? Head over to feedier.com and sign up for free. ?
About the Author
Fiona Adler is the founder of Actioned.com – a productivity tool for individuals and teams. She also writes about entrepreneurship at DoTheThings.com. With an MBA, a strong track-record in building businesses, and a family living in a foreign country, she enjoys pushing the envelope to get the most out of life and loves helping others do the same.