By Nadya Khoja
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t receive at least one form of negative customer feedback.
As a director of marketing, I have a lot of contact with existing and potential customers, many of which are under the impression I enjoy hearing their two cents.
And you know what?
They aren’t wrong.
I actually get quite a kick out of the many of trolls and Debbie Downers that contact me.
In fact, I’ve become quite good at dealing with negative customer feedback and commentary—so much so that diluting any tension that exists now comes naturally.
Here are my six tips for dealing with negative customer feedback on a daily basis.
Take Nothing Personally
The most important thing to keep in mind when someone sends you a long-winded email complaining about your service, is to keep calm and not take it personally.
Most of the time, when someone is lashing out at you, it’s because:
- They are confused and didn’t take the time to understand something; or
- They legitimately don’t think you’re even going to answer them.
For instance, I received this reply after an automated email asking for feedback about our infographic tool.
As you can see, he first claims that the tool is terrible.
This is followed by make three and lay, and then he claims that it is a useless tool.
If I were to take this personally and assume it were true that my work was useless just because this random individual (most likely a high school student) said so, I’d probably give up right then and there.
Think about it, if someone you cared about suddenly told you that you were useless at a subject you actually considered yourself an expert in, it would hurt, and you’d probably think about moving on to a new line of work. But, the fact is, this random individual is not someone you or myself care about. He also misspelled what I can only assume was meant to be the word pay.
The reason I don’t particularly care about this individual’s opinion is because he is upset our tool is no longer free after having successfully made five infographics (not three), because we do need to pay our staff.
Secondly, he clearly didn’t take the time to read any of our pricing guidelines or features on the tool, because he neglected even taking the time to check his spelling in a single-sentence email.
Don’t take people personally.
Here’s another example of an e-mail I received. Again, this individual did not really understand the way the tool worked, and due to stress, lashed out.
Upon receiving this email I could tell she was just upset because she had a deadline to meet. She also asked “why she would bother creating one just to look at it on her computer screen,” when realistically, most people spend approximately 11 hours a day facing a screen, so the chances of viewing an infographic on a computer are actually exponentially higher than viewing a printed version of it.
Of course, this individual did not think about this statistic, because she was angry and typed out the first thing on her mind. I did not take it personally and immediately responded with the following:
Needless to say she was very grateful that I was willing to go out of my way and provide her with rapid assistance.
My next tip is to ask your Negative Nancy for clarity.
Much of the time, when an individual claims your product or service is useless to them, it’s because they haven’t taken the necessary steps to learn how to properly make use of it.
Ask them what it is they need help with and you’ll be amazed how grateful they are for getting a response.
Ask them objective questions about the issue they are facing. To be helpful, you need to be specific with what you need them to do. Find out what they did immediately before the issue occurred, and what their attempt to resolve the situation was. Their responses will likely provide you with new insight and give you what you need to solve the problem.
Furthermore, if you are personally being critiqued because of a service you provided, you should ask yourself three important questions:
- What worked/what did I do right?
- What didn’t work/what did I do wrong?
- How can I improve?
In the retail and hospitality industries, a frequent saying is the customer is always right. Although this can be a difficult statement to accept, often it is true. If someone is paying for a product, they expect to get their money’s worth, and every single person defines value differently.
Before jumping into attack mode, recognize that:
- You can regard the feedback as “undesirable/harmful”, and so ignore it or kill the messenger. In other words, break the feedback medium, which will quickly stop the undesired feedback.
- You can choose to regard the feedback as useful, and engage in the kind of self-reflection already described, so learning to handle things better and more positively in the future.
Remember nobody is perfect, not even you, so you should always seek feedback on improving your technique and your craft.
Keep it Professional
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, there are certain social situations which produce the same response in our brains as when we are in physical danger. There is a valid reason why feedback can feel so uncomfortable. It’s our fight or flight response kicking in.
The trick is identifying this feeling, and knowing when to take a step back and analyze whether your instinctual response is logical and beneficial, or potentially detrimental to your professional appearance.
When in doubt, do not respond to a comment, email, or review immediately. Take a day and sleep on it to give yourself time to rationalize.
Most of the time your urge to fight back is due to the feeling of being threatened. Human nature causes us to respond aggressively during moments that put our mind, body, and pride at risk.
Keep in mind you always have a choice to engage in conversation. Go back to points one and two and try to understand the specific customer’s motives.
There is often a chance that what you are reading and what is implied are being misconstrued.
Try to Read the Person’s Behavior
Standing by the fact it is important to stay professional, there are certain times when you might be able to get away with a bit of sass or snarkiness.
For me, most of the customers I deal with are younger students and, based on that experience, kids have a bizarre way of entertaining themselves.
Here are some screenshots of past responses I have received:
Sometimes you can just get a sense of how someone will respond, and what their sense of humor is like.
Many people (especially teenagers) respond well to those who play along with their banter.
If you think you realize when someone is joking and simply looking for attention, don’t hesitate to play along.
In the end, it could make their day and they will likely share the story with their peers.
In turn, you can give your brand a cheeky personality that even the trolls will advocate for.
Kill Them with Kindness
Let’s go back to the example above with the woman who was frustrated because she spent hours on an infographic, only to find out she couldn’t print it.
What do you think would have happened had I ignored her or simply wished her the best of luck?
She probably would have gone and told all of her friends and acquaintances never to use our service.
Instead, remain confident in your skills and in your product, and diffuse any tension by responding politely and offering guidance as opposed to further criticism.
The goal is to avoid stooping to their level and leaving the conversation as the bigger person. Besides, you want to do everything in your power to ensure your customer is happy.
Sometimes that means pulling some strings for them to make their day just a little bit better.
Lastly, you should understand it’s impossible to please everyone. People will either hate you because they don’t understand you, or because they are jealous of you. Some will hate you because they just don’t believe in what you’re doing.
I wrote an article for the Inquisitr, and overnight it reached more than 25,000 views. I was very excited and dove into the comments people left on the page. There were nearly 30 comments and every one of them was negative.
At first I was aggravated and wanted to debate each person that commented. I quickly realized the only reason they were being so aggressive was because they just didn’t understand the issue I was defending.
Oftentimes there will be groups of people who were raised to act and respond in certain ways, and unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about it aside from walking away from their negativity.
All you can do is stick to your beliefs, hold on to your integrity, and simply move on.
Negative Customer Feedback isn’t All Bad
Negative customer feedback is unavoidable, but it isn’t all bad.
Everyone will always have an opinion and feel a need to share it with you whether you ask for it or not.
The best thing to do is take it and learn from it.