It's Raining on Your Lemonade Stand: Use Negative Feedback

Balancing the Negative with the Positive


The CEO has cleared her schedule. The PR director may be clearing his desk. Senior management have been locked in consultation all morning. Because …

… someone left a bad product review on the website. Anyone can see it! Share prices are predicted to plunge as a wave of no confidence sweeps across the market.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Another is to say, so, you’ve got negative feedback? Excellent! It’s a powerful tool for improving your products and building up your customer base.

Hung up on that word, ‘negative’? You don’t do negativity! You’re a positive company! Well, if it wasn’t for negative feedback, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk. Your senses are constantly monitoring your balance and telling you to adjust your muscles so that you don’t fall over. A system that only has positive feedback very soon goes off the rails. Negative feedback keeps things steady.

It’s a harsh fact that if someone leaves negative feedback, and their opinion is valid – i.e. they are actual customers who have used your product, and not just trolling – then there are only two possibilities.

  1. They’re idiots.
  2. They’re right.

And they’re probably not all idiots.

Feedback gets you attention, and negative feedback gets you more. So, don’t get rude or go into denial or belittle your unhappy customers, and don’t ignore them either. Establish the cause of their dissatisfaction. Many people just want to be listened to, and simple graciousness is a great way of building bridges. And if it turns out they’re in the first category mentioned above then you’ve got a great opportunity to turn the tables back on them – graciously, of course.

     Customer: I really disliked my drink of Extra Bitter Lemonade! It was just too bitter!

     You: We are really sorry you found our bottle of clearly labelled Extra Bitter Lemonade too bitter. Have you considered our range of Mild Tasting Lemonade?

And you add a link that lets them buy a bottle at a discounted price. That’s what tips the balance between just responding to negative feedback, and using it. That negative feedback has led to an extra sale and a customer who is more likely to come back.

The process doesn’t even have to be public. If you still don’t like the negative feedback being visible – the equivalent of hanging out your dirty linen for all to see – then establish a policy that all comments will be moderated prior to publication. One of our team recently posted a frustrated message to his insurer’s Facebook page asking how he could stop being sent requests (three in five days) to review his latest purchase. Contrary to the insurer’s own stated privacy policy, there was no link in the emails to unsubscribe from these mailings, and the company’s FAQ page for contacting customer service was impenetrable. This was also pointed out in the message.

The message never appeared on Facebook, but five minutes after hitting “send” a member of the insurer’s customer engagement team had got back, asking for a few further details so that their records could be amended and no more emails sent. The issue with the privacy policy and the missing unsubscribe options were referred upwards to the web team for correction. All this on a weekend afternoon.

You use negative feedback to do, and be, better. If you’ve been called out on a fault, people will be paying extra attention to see that you get it right next time. Let your next release be all about the improvements that you’ve made thanks to feedback.

If that all sounds like a lot of work for a bit of feedback, you’re right – it is. But you shouldn’t just be responding to and using feedback as a one-off, waiting for holes to appear and then patching them. It should be a constant process, always going on in the background, so that even irritated emails on a Saturday afternoon get a swift response. Don’t just wait for the feedback to come in; be proactive. Go out there and get it, with surveys and focus groups (with added perks: access to an exclusive part of your site; discounted offers on selected lines; entry into a prize draw for a high-end product that they wouldn’t be buying otherwise. Your more engaged customers might be happy to help beta test new products or improvements at home, in return for detailed feedback on what works and what doesn’t. A firm we know that manufactures sensors has regular photo competitions, inviting customers to send in pictures of their products being used: winners get an iPad and a credit on their next purchase, and the firm gets genuine fieldwork photos to use in their marketing literature.

Make the process of data gathering so pleasant that customers are happy to partake. Get a reputation as a company that wants to know.

It’s a lot of data to handle and – wouldn’t it be great? – you could become a victim of your own success, with so many happy, rewarded customers that it’s hard to keep track of them. Products like LoyalTree and Pepper are there to help you – and them. Use technology to empower your customers. For more loyalty program suggestions, follow this link.

And the nightmare scenario that we started with – someone daring to criticize your product, in public! – might become the best day in your company’s life.