Whether it’s in the form of a rude comment on your blog or
an email from a dissatisfied customer, negative feedback is bound to happen at
some point when running a business. As business owners, we do everything
we can to make our customers happy but the fact of the matter is, mistakes
happen and you can’t please everyone.
When I first started Made Urban, before the site had its own News page, I started a separate blog. It wasn't ideal but it was a way for me to start writing and sharing content that I could eventually move over to this site. I wrote a few articles and nervously hit publish.
I got my first comment and was really excited.....until I read it. Someone was tearing me a new one because I misused the word "lie" (I should have use "lay it down" instead of "lie it down"; one even Eric Clapton got wrong in "Lay Down Sally"). They basically let me know that "no one was going to take me seriously" and that I had just "discredited myself". Damn! My business was going to fail because of a grammar mistake?!
Luckily I realized their predictions were probably false and this anger had nothing to do with me. There was something bigger going on with them. Why else would you feel the need to cut someone down over something so small? I also realized; it's okay to not be a fit for everyone. Someone who gets that upset over a grammar mistake? See ya! I kindly let them know not to stick around because there were sure to be more mistakes in the future. I am a human after all.
And I'm sure there have been more grammar and spelling mistakes in the articles I've published (maybe there's even a mistake in this one?) but out of the quarter of a million people who have read them so far, that person was the only one to complain. A QUARTER OF A MILLION READERS! I'm sure glad I didn't let them scare me into thinking I should just give up because I couldn't deliver something perfectly.
As a small business you may feel as though one bad comment or review can break you. Don't worry. It won't. You have an advantage as a small business owner; people know you. They've seen firsthand how you treat your customers and know that the person behind the business isn't some money grubbing CEO trying to pull one over on people. They'll see right past anyone trying to embellish a story or know that if there is an actual issue, you care enough to fix it.
If your customer is unhappy with your product or service, or you've
simply come across someone who wants to cut you down, here’s an easy process to
deal with criticism and move forward:
1) Take a step back & ask if it's valid
No matter how open you are to constructive criticism, it’s
human nature to go on the defense. As you read a negative review or angry
email, you may start to feel upset, angry and insecure. Although we want to
deal with the situation STAT, it’s important to read the email or comment over
a few times to be sure you’re not interpreting it the wrong way and take some time to
clear your head so you can respond properly, not out of anger.
Determine whether this person actually has a valid complaint
that you’re capable of fixing or if they’re just sending you a piece of their
mind with no real intention of working with you to fix the situation. Although you’ll want to take (almost) all
complaints seriously and use them to improve, determining whether this person
is your ideal customer you want to keep happy or someone who will never be a
fit for you and your business, will help you respond properly.
2) Put yourself in their
shoes & brainstorm how to fix it
We’ve all been frustrated over a product or service that
didn’t live up to our expectations. When you send in a complaint to the
company, what do you generally want from it? Probably to feel like you’re being
heard and that they care enough to try and fix the situation. Keep this in mind
when dealing with the person and even if it’s simply a difference of opinions
and there isn’t a solution, let them know that you appreciate the time they
took to write you and that you’ll take their feedback seriously to improve your
It’s not always possible to refund
their money or replace an item. Get creative and think of ways that you can
work with the customer to make them feel better about the situation. If you
made them a custom piece they aren’t happy with, is there a way you can alter
it? If you provided a service and they’re dissatisfied with the results, can
you throw in a bonus so they feel like they got something extra? If you’ve
messed up and sold something that is not up to your company’s standards, you
may have to bite the bullet and eat the costs. But first, try to find a solution that doesn’t have you starting from scratch.
3) Be the bigger person
If they’ve gone overboard with their reaction, realize that
they were probably reacting in the heat of the moment. If you do the same,
you’re only going to fuel the fire and you may end up regretting it later. It’s important to let the person know that
you understand how they feel and you’re willing to work with them to fix it (if
If the complaint is made on a public forum, think about how
you want other customers to view you. We can all spot the person blowing
something out of proportion so don’t go on the defense trying to prove
them wrong. If their complaint is valid, apologize and ask them to get in
touch via email so you can rectify the situation in private. If they’ve
fabricated a story and embellished details, you can simply state that you
believe there must be some sort of miscommunication and again, direct them
towards your email to sort everything out. Engaging in a public back and
forth doesn’t look professional and puts all your dirty laundry on display.
4) Draft a response
“Draft” is the keyword here. Don’t write something up and
fire it off. Write out the main points you want to get across, take some time
away from it, come back, re-read and make edits as needed. Some situations
need your immediate attention but if possible, take the time to sleep on it. It
really does make a huge difference and help you put things in perspective.
Some elements you may want to include in your response:
- Thank them for taking the time to voice their
concerns – although you may not feel like thanking them for ripping you a new
one, if it’s a valid complaint, you’ll be able to use it to improve your
- Ensure you’re understanding their concerns – put
the issue at hand into your own words to a) let them know you’re taking the
time to understand and b) make sure you’re on the same page.
- Solutions – if it’s pretty straight forward, let
them know what you’re willing to do to help them. If you need a deeper
understanding of the situation, don’t offer fixes right away or you may end up
committing to extra work that isn’t warranted. Let them know you would like to
work with them to rectify the situation but you need more details first.
- Point out your policies – if they’re telling you
they want their money back because they’re not happy with a custom piece but your policy states there are no refunds on custom work, point that out to them. Don’t brush them off but let them know these
are the terms they agreed to.
5) Accept that you can’t
Although many complaints are valid, realize that there are
some people who just love to complain. There’s something bigger going on in
their world and sometimes their anger and frustration will get misguided at
may be lost on them but we’re all human and mistakes are going to happen. They
may not be willing to, but give yourself a break. If it helps, think of all the happy customers you do have. Keep any lovely emails you've received in a separate folder so you can revisit them on days you need a little boost.
If you’re taking the time to read this article, I know you
care about your business and your customers. You’re doing a great job! Valid or
not, don’t let one negative comment set you back. Take it with a grain of salt,
determine what you can learn from it and do your best to make it right.