6 Ways To Look At Negative Feedback

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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?


  1. Good points. I would also add in the event you do resolve a legitimate negative feedback, then I make sure you share that as well. If your doing anything on the net today its really hard not to make mistakes. We all do, we’re human. How you handle it makes all the difference.

  2. Hi Mitch,
    Thanks for the compelling article. It was definitely a read-worthy piece (instead of skim-worthy). My experience in dealing with angry customers in many different countries is that it always makes sense to acknowledge their complaint. You may not agree or may not be able to fix anything but a little empathy goes a long way. Even some of the nutters can be neutralised if they feel like they’re being heard.

  3. Nice post, No. 3 in particular is especially true. In the community projects I have worked on, that has always been a goal I have gone for.
    Within the social spaces online where we are active, we always try to resolve any issue that might come up in public. For the more involved ones, we do try to direct them offline. Sometimes the response would be too long winded, and detract from the experience of other users.
    Responding to the negative online might be hard, but it is also where you can create the most value for the customers and the company.

  4. Great post. We’ve been dealing with this a little on our internal blog. My lesson – step back and see how other commenters deal with the negativity (I like to jump in). When I did step back we saw a dialogue, which is kind of the point. Amazing.

  5. This is such a hot buttons issue for so many organizations and as you say, a major reason they tend to tread lightly in the digital conversation, especially when it’s less fabourable. People are emotional beings. When something emerges that gets our backs up, we want to jump on it and take control. That’s not as much of an option given digital culture. Organizations need to be able to track and better predict what may emerge and use controlled channels to manage an effective response. As lauraldawn and you suggest, community self-policing works as longs as people have the facts. Establishing relationships with “influencers” online in good times is a key ingredient. They will tip you off as to tremors that may be emerge and may help diffuse a potentially volatile situation. Negative feedback creates great opportunities to identify those that actually care about your business.

  6. Hey Mitch,
    Great thoughts and well articulated. Loving the comments too! 😛
    Interesting to think about Tom Peters’ rant on the back of Letterman and all that jazz recently.
    An *real* apology goes a long way.

  7. I’m not sold on your comments about a company not allowing customer reviews because they dony have a good product.
    Complainers almost always make their opinion known while satisfied customers just move on. You mentioned the travel industry. In the travel industry you can get crushed by someone who doesn’t get the experience they invisioned and then completly trash the company top to bottom. That type of “review” is very difficult to deal with for small travel companies.
    Look at Apple, they have some of their own products rated by consumers as horible. Like the mackbook pro battery – it’s just not a fair rating yet they can handle it because they are Apple. But if that battery was your only product, it could kill you.

  8. Great post. One thought: the ability for companies to respond via digital channels is new to consumers as well, to the extent that it can be startling – perhaps even offputting, depending on the audience makeup – when one doesn’t expect them to be monitoring that conversation. I recently had an experience where a tossed-off complaint on Twitter garnered a same-day response from the SNS in question, first via the official company Twitter, then the founder’s personal account. I eventually ended up sending them a screencap so they could fix the software bug in question (you can take the techie out of QA, but you can’t take QA out of the techie it seems…). Now I’m sitting here wondering:
    1) Am I satisfied by the “prompt customer service”, or do I feel minutely ripped off that I have – essentially – done debugging work for free?
    2) Do I like or dislike the fact that I can probably never say anything about these guys on Twitter without them knowing it? If the Twitter in question were “public” but mostly for interacting with personal friends rather than networking or mindcasting, would a sensation of invasion of privacy be justified?
    Many more personal bloggers/journallers/SNS-users I know would say yes to that last, emphatically. And yet from the company’s perspective, I can’t say they’ve done anything wrong; it may be that they’ve done everything right.

  9. You should absolutely make it a point to respond to as much feedback, both positive and negative, as possible. Obviously, those who fit the description outlined in #2 don’t warrant a response. Often, if you respond to them you may find yourself sinking to their level and it’s best to avoid that all together.
    If the goal of your social media endeavors is to create a dialog, there’s no better way to do that than jump in yourself. In the end, the dialog that’s created may help you make improvements or changes you never would have thought to make without the help of others.
    Tessa Carroll
    VBP OutSourcing

  10. Hi Mitch,
    I would add that there is something positive thing about negative feedback and that is the fact that you did get feedback. Negative feedback is better than no feedback at all.

  11. Thanks for the post. I would add that the only bad comment is no comments – at all! Someone is reading and the fact they don’t agree with your views is fine. You can’t please everyone all the time. Don’t be afraid to be controversial.

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