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How To Turn Negative Feedback Into A Golden Opportunity

Let's face it - no one likes to hear that something they did falls short. Naturally, we feel vulnerable, and many of us move quickly into defensive mode, doing our best to validate our behaviour (or conveniently pass the buck) before thoughtfully considering the other person's viewpoint. This "knee-jerk" reaction can impact a company's reputation in a heartbeat, especially when the disparaging comment was posted online for the world to see.

How To Handle Negative Feedback Online

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." ~ Bill Gates

Have you ever received an online complaint? How did you respond?

  • Ignored it, hoping that no one saw it and it would eventually go away

  • Attacked the person who wrote the negative review

  • Responded privately to the customer and tried to coerce them into removing their negative review

  • Simply deleted the negative review

While the above “quick fixes” are common reactions, they frequently lead to not only a dramatic decrease in potential new customer interest, but also leave existing customers feeling uneasy and unsure.

- Ignoring the comment does not make it go away - it looks like you don’t care enough to respond.

- Publicly attacking the customer is never appropriate (remember, “the customer is not always right, but they deserve to be heard”).

- Trying to coerce or softly threaten a customer to remove a negative review is never a good idea (especially if you haven't addressed and resolved the issue).

- Deleting the review could be viewed as the company having something to hide, an admission of guilt, or that there is no process in place to rectify the situation. (Note, however, that deleting a remark is always appropriate if it is derogatory towards a race, religion, etc. Not doing so could be construed as the company’s agreement with the comment.)

On the bright side, you can turn the tables, and recognize negative feedback as a golden PR opportunity!

Respond immediately, thanking the customer for contacting you. They took the time to do so because they invested in your product or service and trust that you’ll make things right.

Put yourself in their shoes. What went wrong? Fix it - quickly and with genuine empathy - and share your response online. Your current and future customers will see that you are committed to providing a good customer experience. This is a great way to build trust.

A Good, Real-World Example of How To Handle Negative Feedback:

On February 14, 2007, a major ice storm hit the East Coast of the USA, forcing multiple airlines to cancel flights, inconveniencing countless Valentine’s Day travellers. JetBlue cancelled hundreds of flights that day, and many irritated passengers didn’t hesitate to post their frustrations online.

That same evening, David Neeleman, JetBlue’s Founder and CEO, issued a public apology, offering not only full refunds but also free, round-trip tickets to those passengers detained on board. A week later, following further weather-related delays, Mr Neeleman wrote an open letter to JetBlue customers which appeared on his blog and in full-page ads in major newspapers. Below is the closing paragraph:

You deserved better - a lot better - from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity to once again welcome you onboard and provide you the positive JetBlue Experience you have come to expect from us. ​ Sincerely, David Neeleman Founder and CEO

Notice that, while he obviously could not control Mother Nature, Mr Neeleman accepted full responsibility for not meeting customers’ expectations. Later that year, JetBlue was awarded first-place ranking in the J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Survey for low-cost air carriers.

As unwanted (and embarrassing) as they may be, there's no need to fear negative reviews. Instead, look at this feedback as a way to improve an area of your business that you didn't realize needed work. See it as a way to show how much you value and care about your customers - see it as your golden opportunity!

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