Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 21, 200910:03 PM

6 Ways To Look At Negative Feedback

What happens when people do say bad things about you (or your company)?

This is - without question - one of the primary reason many companies avoid the conversation that takes place in the Digital channels. It's the exact same reason why they don't allow consumer reviews on their sites. It's not because they don't have thick skin or because they have a product or service that is not up to par. For the most part, the main reason is that they don't know how to respond at a corporate level. They're not sure if they need to involve the legal and PR folks and they're also not sure if they have the capabilities (re: work force) to really tackle it in a professional and meaningful way.

Regardless of whether or not they have the infrastructure to respond, here are:

6 Ways To Look At Negative Feedback:

  1. Is the feedback legitimate? There are many instances where the negativity actually has some merit. You'll see a lot of this in industries like pharma and travel. It's hard for everybody to have a pristine customer experience when issues like side affects or even sliding scales of pricing are in play. In a lot of instances, the negative feedback is not about the overall service, but is an exception to the rule. If the negative feedback is legitimate, it does require some kind of response. Does it require a personal response in every instance? Not necessarily. As long as the response is communicated in a human and personal way (re: no PR or legal mumbo jumbo) and then findable if someone does a search or makes a query, it could correct the course. At the very least, an instance like this might force the company to look internally and really fix things (either in how they communicate or with the product or service specifically).
  2. Is the person crazy? Don't laugh. It is possible. We've all read peer reviews and marvelled at how someone's review of a product has no real attachment to the reality we all share. The world is full of crazy people who are just looking for a soapbox to be heard or a cause to take on. In this instance, you have to tread carefully. Responding may open up a can of worms that will see no end and no reason. No responding might only aggravate the individual. These are special/case-by-case instances, and they might require something more traditional - like a phone call - to try and resolve the scenario.
  3. Will someone else in your community come to your defense? This is probably one of the more surprising outcomes that we have seen in online communities. Often, people who are engaged in the community are quick to defend it or share their own opinion (that is in-line with the companies). It's actually more common than uncommon and speaks to why it is critical that companies identify their brand evangelists and build that community... before they need it (before the negative feedback comes to pass).
  4. Is apologizing an option? I was taken by Tom Peters' rant at last week's The Art of Management event in Toronto. Peters said that many divorces and business failures would probably never materialize if people sucked it up and simply apologized. Not an apology with a "but" or exceptions - a full-on, "we're sorry. We screwed up. We need to fix this because you are important to us." But, only if you mean it. There is something big in this thought from Peters. Apologies definitely go a long way.
  5. Should you just forget about it and move on? There are many schools of thoughts on this. Some people say you have to respond to each and every piece of feedback (both positive and negative), some argue that you should only respond to those who really do have some kind of impact within the community, and then there is the group that simply sits backs and just lets it fly without ever responding. Your mileage may vary. Depending on the scenario, the type of feedback and the voices behind the noise, is how you will best gauge how to respond. If you're somewhat open and using platforms like Blogs and Twitter, it is possible to respond without directly engaging. It's a tough generalization to make, but it is usually good to respond in some kind of fashion so that your own POV (point of view) is - at least - a part of the conversation.
  6. Should you respond to everything? It's easy to respond to the good stuff, it is hard (and time consuming) to respond to the negative. The answer to this one ties into #5. In a perfect world, yes - respond to everything (with the exception of the people in #2). In responding, you're not just answering to this one individual's gripe, you're better able to reflect on how your brand "lives" in people's minds, and I believe this will make you a better Marketer, a better Communications Professional and a better brand.

What would you add?

By Mitch Joel