Why complaints can be a profit making positive for your business

Over recent months I have meet with a few business owners who were not only nervous about putting their business online, but damn scared the moment they set themselves up to get customer reviews someone would rubbish their reputation and their business would wither and die :(

Firstly, if you have so little confidence in your service or product you need to address this asap. Secondly, if you know you are giving your customers poor services, custom and products you need to address this as well. Thirdly, if you are clueless to what is going on you need to get involved and deal with it.

The realty is if you are doing a half way reasonable job you will likely, get at least soft positive reviews with soft comments. I will cover how to get reviews and how to be rockstars in another blog. For today I will focus on the positives of negative feedback.

I'll leave aside how to deal with troll reviews, fake negative reviews for another post.

The good news is negative customer reviews/feedback, can give you a realty check and provoke the potential for positive change, within your business and your self. The condition to grow from the experience is to have empathy for your customer and be able to have the humility to find a solution and then put a plan in action to stop it from happening again. The trap you don't want to get into is the 'That customer is just a F#$% Dick'. I've seen this attitude spread through businesses like a toxic virus. It is a form of cognitive dissonance and common among sales people/service people. In short because they weren't successful at offering their service/product they bend realty to fit a narrative that is more comfortable with their perception of how they think they really are.

So instead of simply accepting they weren't; a good enough sales person on that occasion, the person really didn't need or want the product that day, they were rude, they were unhelpful, when they damaged their property it really was a screw up, they really are accountable for being late. They invent a negative image of the customer to balance it out.

One of the most awesome examples of business owner to customer and staff cognitive dissonance is the famous Amy's Baking Company episode from the Kitchen Nightmares featuring Gordan Ramsay. As Gordan says in the TV Show Amy and her Husband are miles out of step with what the realty of their food and service is. Worse yet they are being told, but are choosing to ignore it (trolls aside).

Amy's Baking Company - Warning NSFW

Humour aside the problem here is they do not have the empathy to understand their customers. If you can't understand your customer experience you'll never grow long term as a business.

What to do with Negative reviews and feedback and how to profit from it

Firstly, never dismiss negative feedback, internally. No matter how nutty the customer might be there will be a grain of truth in there somewhere. Likewise, there is no need to take the burden of it on fully and become depressed over it. Rather you should dissect it and look for the positive and negative components and the flow of escalation.

Dissecting a review

The actual customer involved is irrelevant as this is not a blame game. It is a growing game. What you want to do is identify the failures, such as;

  • You were late
  • You broke the customers XYZ
  • You were rude
  • The product broke
  • You were unorganised
  • You took forever
  • You didn't know the information they needed
  • You were closed
  • You don't accept American Express
  • You took to long to reply
  • You ran out of product
  • Your property was dirty

    Now work out the flow of how the issue escalated. Then go back and try to identify the tipping point at which it started to go all wrong for the customer. There will be somethings which just are a screw up from start to finish on the surface, but perceive and break it down further until you find it. Often it comes down to, organising, quality and caring. But what you as a business owner, manager or employee need to is identify that starting point and address it.

    For example;

    Outcome: Customer was ignored and they left angry and posted a bad review.

    Because, the cafe staff were really busy
    Because, there was a long line
    Because, it was lunch time
    Because, Because the coffee machine was playing up
    Because, it was dirty
    Because, staff didn't have time to clean it
    Because, it was busy first thing in the morning
    Because, Steve came in late
    Because, Because Steve worked late
    Because, Steve didn't clean the coffee machine last night
    Because, Steve was worn out
    Because, Steve is double handling everything
    Because, its not clean
    Because, Steve is double handling everything

    Our cognitive dissonance model, could be the staff label the customer as being difficult and demanding, because obviously they are awesome because look at how busy they are.

    Additionally, for our example typical frontend management is to grill the staff and tell them to make sure every customer is welcomed and assume that is addressing the issue and wait for the next bad review. However, while that could possibly improve things, if staff are truly too busy they may not even have time to do that. The breakdown approach shows multiple small breakdowns and a cycle of not cleaning the coffee machine properly and then being busy because of breakdowns from not cleaning the coffee machine, being the tipping point that escalates to bad service in this example.

    So now you can address the issue honestly at the root cause. Break the cycle, create a new procedure and proceed to profit.

    So the lesson from receiving a bad review or feedback is to find the root cause then address it. The realty is many other customers probably felt the same way and never said anything, but also never returned. So in a way customers speaking up is a gift for you, because who knows how much money you could be leaving on the table, all the while being totally unaware.

    I am not a big fan of rewarding customers who don't have any brand loyalty for your business. However, you could easily argue that re-frame negative customer review pacifying or placating to rewarding the author as a form of thank you for illustrating the issue and opportunity to fix it and profit from it.

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    Senior Developer at Mebsites on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Mebsites is an acclaimed Magento and Custom Framework Web Software coding house.
    Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia Website