Customer feedback

Negative feedback – why we should all embrace it


Customers are becoming more and more demanding and customer complaints are on the rise. Research from the Ombudsman Services shows 79% of people said they would leave a company if they handle their complaint badly.

No one likes dealing with complaints. Our response is often to become defensive or retaliate. I’d like to suggest an alternative approach which could really help your business.

Welcome negative feedback, seek it out and embrace it.

Why? Because in those grumbles and complaints there are clues to what customers really want, what they value and how you can service them better and keep them for longer.

1.    Feedback tells us a lot about the giver

Our first reaction might be to say ‘some people are just never happy’. But this doesn’t put us in the other person’s shoes.  If you can do that you might realise that the feedback is valid and there might be simple ways you can rectify the problem.

I work with a lot of professionals; solicitors, IFAs, accountants and the like and one of the most common causes of complaint is that they don’t return calls quickly enough or appear to ignore emails. When I speak to my clients they have any number of good reasons why this might be the case.

But put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s called four times in one day.  They must be anxious. They clearly feel they need help.

Lack of, or slow response is one of the most common causes of complaint against professionals, yet it’s so easy to put right. Firstly, set up clear expectations with the client, tell them when they can expect the next contact and make sure you stick to the time given or tell them why you can’t. Use email or even a quick text to keep clients informed, especially when there is nothing substantial to report. Agree regular times when you will catch up, this can be particularly useful with clients who need a lot of time and attention.  Book time in the diary and encourage them to gather together relevant documents or email you their thoughts to be discussed at that time. Hopefully techniques like this can meet the needs of the client whilst also being practical for your business.

2.    People who grumble still care

Whatever you do, don’t feel badly towards the people who grumble.  In the main these people still care. They want you to put things right and they want to continue buying from you. It’s the ones who don’t complain and instead just walk that you need to worry about because you have no opportunity to learn why.

If I have a bad meal in a restaurant on holiday, where I’ve no intention of ever returning, I probably wouldn’t bother to complain.  If there’s something wrong with a meal I eat in my local village pub, I’ll tell them.  Why?  Because I want to eat there again. I want to give them an opportunity to learn from my experience.

Your customers should be the same.  They want you to do a good job for them, they don’t want to have to find another supplier.

The other important factor with complainers is that if you can put things right for them, to their satisfaction, they can become advocates. Sometimes you can turn a bad customer experience into a positive one resulting in positive exposure and PR.

3.    It’s an opportunity to improve systems and processes

Very often negative feedback is not about the core product or service you are delivering. Instead it’s about the peripherals. It’s about whether the receptionist greets with a smile or a scowl, whether the telephone is answered in a professional manner and so on.

By reviewing and analysing negative feedback you have an opportunity to improve the customer experience, without necessarily changing anything at all about your core product or service. It’s your chance to get better and in the highly competitive environment we all work in where customer expectations are elevated by the 24/7 web enabled choices they are given by the likes of Amazon, we need all the help we can get.

People complain about the things that are important to them.  These are not always the same as the things that are important to us as product or service suppliers. And people pay for the things that they want, and will often pay more if it’s delivered in the way they prefer.  So, listening carefully to customer feedback – both positive and negative – can put you in a strong position to sell more, charge more and keep growing your business.

Of course, in a world fuelled by social media, where spreading the word takes a matter of seconds we all need to be on our guard and respond promptly to any complaints.


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