Customers love to complain. Comment cards, Facebook posts and Yelp reviews are all filled with bad consumer experiences.
Many small-business owners fear that customers who have something to complain about will do so online. This is a real concern since customers love to moan and groan, and it's easy for anyone to anonymously post something negative about a business online.
What's worse is that consumers are increasingly placing a high value on what other consumers think. According to Nielsen's 2015 Global Trust in Advertising survey, 66 percent of respondents say they trust consumer opinions posted online. This is why positive online reviews about products and services are so highly valued.
But negative reviews aren't all bad—in fact, they can offer small-business owners a golden opportunity to generate positive word of mouth. While that may sound counterintuitive, here's why asking for bad reviews has the potential to improve your customers' experience and get people sharing their positive experiences of your business:
1. No news is not good news.
Many small-business owners mistakenly believe that if they don't hear negative feedback from customers, then those customers must be satisfied. Unfortunately, most customers who have bad experiences suffer in silence and won't tell you about it. Instead, they may tell their friends, and never do business with you again.
Small-business owners could instead encourage feedback from customers through many different channels, at both the time of purchase and afterwards, so you can find out what they think and, if it's not positive, make changes to improve things.
2. Customers want empathy.
People often simply want to be heard. Customers know that a company can’t always fix the problem, but they may want to talk about it. Making it easy for your customers to voice their opinion may satisfy many of them and start the healing process.
3. Customers crave authenticity.
They typically seek transparency in all their business transactions and want to do business with real people. Be that company by telling it the way it is at every stage of the post-sales process.
4. Show customers that their voice matters.
Many customers don’t complain because they believe it won’t make a difference. Show them that your company listens by building an infrastructure that can respond to social media posts in a timely fashion.
5. Be thoughtful in all responses.
Part of doing business is understanding that customers will have complaints. Successful companies often respond quickly to criticism and offer solutions. Check out any well-run hotel, for instance, and see how they reply to TripAdvisor comments. In my local neighborhood, Whole Foods posts customer comments on a bulletin board outside the checkout lanes, showing management’s response to each one.
6. Turn customers into evangelists.
A complaining customer that becomes a satisfied one can be a booster for your company. The key can be to follow up with that customer after the initial incident to see if their concern was resolved and if they're still satisfied. Customers are proud when a company actually acts on their concerns, and they'll often tell their friends about it.
7. Train your employees.
Products and services don't get delivered in a vacuum. The only important feedback on what gets sold is what customers think of it. Relay negative comments to product development, service delivery and post-sales staff to show them what customers really think. Use customer feedback to help your company evolve and to influence its culture.
Your first reaction to a bad review might be to get it deleted. Instead, why not just ask for one by posting a phrase such as, “had a bad experience? Tell us why” on your website and social media outlets?
Learning what customers really think could be the best thing that's ever happened to your business.
Read more articles on customer engagement.
This article was originally published on November 5, 2014.