Recently I read an interesting article in The Business Review by Court Cunningham, CEO of Yodle (online marketing company).  The focus of the article was how to respond to a negative online review.

Mr. Cunningham stated “Criticism can sting, but you should also look at it as a gift.” In my opinion, this is a truism, irrespective of who you are or the industry you’re in. In fact, in a past business communication webinar that I conducted, I created a slide that said: Our Customers=Our Bread & Butter which means that complaints are a good thing (yes you read that correctly).

Although my webinar targeted verbal complaints, I found Mr. Cunningham’s four tips for managing online complaints to be equally applicable to negative verbal feedback. He suggested the following:

1. Decide whether to respond: general consensus among experts in the online world is that it’s advisable to respond to all reviews (including those that are negative).  The rationale is that it promotes transparency and helps a business connect with its customers.  I would wholeheartedly agree with this when it comes to verbal critiques, as well.  Why do I say this?  Because the complaining customer represents a huge opportunity for more business.

2. Decide what to say: choosing the right words makes all the difference; the worst thing you can do is be rash or defensive. Once again, I would wholeheartedly agree with this when it comes to verbal critiques, as well. Certainly, it’s tempting to shout back or become defensive because you may feel the negativity or hostility is personally directed at you.  You’ll get far better results by offering an apology, if warranted, and then keeping your response centered around ways to be helpful.

3. Know when to get out: the article makes the point that unfortunately some customers are never satisfied, which many of us realize.  In the online world, the author suggests that once you’ve done your part, you may offer to further the discussion offline. In the same business communication webinar I referenced earlier, I made the point that it helps to recognize what we do and don’t have control over.  Specifically, we don’t have control over what makes other people tick (how they think, how they react, how they look at the world around them).  Conversely, what we do have control over is what makes us tick (how we think, how we react and how we look at the world around us).  Sometimes we can easily forget this when we’re caught up in responding to a complaint or negative reaction.

4. Make changes to your business: the author states “Use legitimate negative feedback as an opportunity to improve your business.” He goes on to recommend that we all take a step back and assess if we’re offering optimal value to our customers.  At the risk of being redundant…I concur with this point, as well.  Bill Gates said “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

In my own business, Profitable Speech, I believe in seeking input from those I serve.  What my clients think and what they need is and will always be my top priority!


Leave a Reply