As a writer who regularly -- and willingly -- has work posted all over the internet, (which is basically an open invitation for critique) I know firsthand how rude people can be.
In fact, I recently got a comment from a man who told me that, out of all the people in the world, I was the one who caused him to lose his last shred of faith in humankind for writing a Kardashian-themed blog post.
And while I found the comment more ridiculous and funny than anything, I still thought it was a pretty shitty and irrational thing to say. (Yet it still got a few 'likes' from other readers.)
Of course, I evoked the old mantra -- do not feed the trolls -- and did not reply to this person. But it got me thinking.
Negative feedback affects us all, no matter what profession we're in.
But, if you're a small business owner, negative feedback, especially once it hits the web, can be detrimental to everything you've worked for.
So, how do you handle it so it doesn't adversely affect your business and/or your confidence as an entrepreneur?
Check out the four steps below to make sure you know how to smoothly, and suavely, handle the criticism that's (inevitably) going to come your way during your journey as a business owner.
Step 1: Respond in a Timely Manner
OK, you just got a horrible Yelp review or found someone bashing you on Twitter... what do you do? First, don't panic. Then, get the facts.
You don't know yet if this complaint is valid, and it doesn't matter.
Respond publicly to the customer and tell them you're very sorry they've had 'X' experience and you want to get more details from them so you can investigate the situation immediately.
Give them your phone number and/or email so you can talk with them further. By doing this, you've responded publicly, which shows anyone else viewing this situation that you're a proactive business owner who cares about customer service and you've taken the rest of the conversation offline, so it can be handled privately.
Step 2: Rectify the Situation (Appropriately)
Now that you've (swiftly) sent your initial response to the customer, calmly and kindly (don't get defensive) ask the customer for full details of what went down. Then, talk to the employee on duty, if applicable, to get their side of the story.
Depending on the situation, you might offer the customer a full or partial refund, a discount for a return visit, a fully comp'd product or service during a return visit, or nothing more than a sincere apology. (Although the apology should come with or without any additional compensation.)
The facts you gather should help you determine the level at which this customer needs retribution. Be fair and always treat your customers the way you'd want to be treated.
Step 3: Evaluate the Severity (Or Lack Thereof)
I was in Trader Joe's the other day when I saw a woman completely lose her shit on an employee because he had told her they had organic tomatoes when they were actually out of them. I'm talking a full-on toddler-style tantrum, complete with yelling that continued the entire time she stomped away.
I guess one could argue that the employee should have known what was in, and out, of stock before telling this customer they had something they didn't, but her reaction was completely over the top and irrational. (Not to mention hilarious. Lady really wanted her organic tomatoes.)
But, I could imagine Angry Tomato Woman (ATW) going straight home and firing off a barrage of complaints to get this employee in trouble -- when he didn't deserve it, in my opinion.
That's why you have to really do your legwork behind the scenes to find out if complaints are legit or if they're a product of someone just trying to get something for free or someone overreacting to what should really be a non-issue.
Don't be afraid to go semi- 'Big Brother' to get the facts
Obviously, you're not going to inappropriately spy on your employees (right?) but conducting a little intel will provide you with a wealth of valuable information about how your staff treats your customers when you're not around.
- Hire secret shoppers (or ask a friend) to visit your store and/or call with questions
- Review any video/phone recordings during the time of a complaint
- Speak with any coworkers/managers who were on duty at the time and could offer insight to a complaint
This is your business, and you need to know what level of customer service your customers are receiving at all times.
You'll never be able to please everyone
In the ATW scenario, the Trader Joe's manager could apologize to the woman for the mix-up and let her know they'd talk to the employee about staying on top of inventory, but you know she would've still been angry, regardless what was said or done in retribution -- and sometimes this is going to happen.
No matter how great you are or how fabulous your product is, there's always going to be someone out there who isn't satisfied for whatever reason or wants to take something minor and make it major. And you have to be OK with that. There's no avoiding it.
We all know that the customer isn't always right. However, some business owners make the decision to treat them like they are and others tell them to take a hike. Which will you be?
The importance of testing your own processes and procedures
And if it's not an employee in question, but a bad shipping process, a faulty product, or just an overall terrible user experience on your website, again, conduct research to find out if the person's complaints are valid.
- Go through your own checkout process
- Test your products for durability
- Go through your shipping process
- Evaluate pricing
The biggest thing to watch out for is trends. Is one employee constantly getting complaints? Do people consistently leave bad reviews online about how your products are overpriced? Are people always tweeting about the lack of responsiveness when they call or email with questions? Perhaps it is time to take make some changes to ensure you don't lose any more customers.
Step 4: Keep Your Head Up
It can be very hard to not let negative feedback shake your confidence, or, hell, even just simply hurt your feelings.
But what you have to remind yourself of is this: Anytime you create something, whether it's a business, a blog post, a painting, etc., you're opening yourself up to critique. And in some ways, you want that. Because the more people who talk about you, the more likely it is for you to achieve the level of success you want.
Regardless of whether that negative feedback was warranted or not, you can't let it shake your confidence, because that's when self-doubt and fear creep in, both of which can prevent you from achieving your dreams.
Changing Your Mindset
Everyone makes mistakes and everyone fails in some way or another, but not everyone rebounds.
If you look at every mean comment you get as an opportunity to make your business better, stronger, and more apt to succeed, it'll give you the strength you need to keep your head up and continue looking ahead.
But if you do find that negative feedback is starting to get you down, simply refer back to this blog post and say, "Well, at least I've never caused anyone to lose faith in humanity like that one writer did." and I'm sure you'll start to feel better right away.