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How Companies Can Use Customer Criticism to Grow

Even angry complaints can contain valuable feedback


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Customer feedback often comes in the form of critique — and public critique has the potential to be harmful to your business.

While Yelp and other online review platforms opened the door for anyone with a smartphone to offer their two cents on everything from doctors and dentists to a meatball sandwich at a local restaurant, these reviews force businesses to pay an increased amount of attention to customer feedback.

And as we all know from one Yelp user’s experience with a meatball sandwich, these sites attract some reviews that dabble in hyperbole to the point of absurdity. Yet, tuning out negative comments is not only bad for business, it also represents lost opportunity. Smart business owners will embrace online complaints by recognizing increased consumer empowerment to build audience relationships and improve services and product offerings.

Customer Service is Changing

Demographic changes have disrupted the marketing industry, changing customer service. From improved brand awareness and easy access to products, digital marketing has effectively changed consumer behavior, providing consumers with more control over purchases. Yet, most organizations still us an outdated customer service playbook that doesn’t consider the new ways customers interact with businesses.

Why? Because most companies still believe they’re good at customer service. According to a Bain & Company survey, 80% of companies believe they deliver a "superior experience" to customers. But when customers were asked about those same brands, they say only 8% are truly delivering superiority.

And in an environment where poor customer service costs businesses more than $75 billion a year, CEOs of companies of all sizes are recognizing the importance of delivering a better customer service experience. No longer exclusively about answering phone calls and emails, most customer service has become a spectator sport in the modern world of business.

Customer service is increasingly about customer reaction and customer relationships playing out in full view of everybody. Which is not only an opportunity to turn customer service into a winning strategy, but it also opens the door for you to really do your business a disservice if you’re not embracing complaints in the right way.

Answer Every Customer Complaint. In Every Channel. Every Time.

While we tend to treat haters and complainers like our least important customers, they’re actually the most important. The biggest opportunity for businesses in a customer service context is not only about speed of response but simply showing up and answering customers’ complaints.

Shockingly, many customer complaints are never answered. In our increasingly digital world, most of these complaints live on social media, review sites, discussion boards and forums — places other consumers can see the complaints go ignored. If you want to retain customers with great customer service and customer experience, it’s not just about being fast, it’s about being everywhere.

Praise is overrated, both in business and life. It’s the negative feedback where you can learn your most important lessons. Learn from your customers’ complaints and use them to improve your business. If your company is not prepared to listen to customer demands, they’ll find a company who will. Customers are not always right, but they should always be heard — even the malicious, angry and ridiculous.

Research shows the greatest customer satisfaction increase when interacting with complainers happens during the answer not the resolution. If your company is able to answer just one customer complaint, it can increase that customer’s loyalty to you by 10% to 50% depending on what channel they complain in.

Remember it’s not always about that one hater. While you want to make individuals happy, with online venues like Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and blog comment sections, you must recognize you're talking a larger audience.

Use Customer Feedback to Improve

Much like the sandwich shop that made “the worst meatball sandwich that one guy on Yelp ever had in his life,” you, too, can embrace customer complaints to view this era as more than customer empowerment — look at it as your business’ empowerment tool. The sandwich shop owner decided to wear its harshest criticism as a badge of honor, leveraging the bad review as a novel way to attract new customers. Even angry complaints can contain valuable feedback.

If your company policy is to tend only to your satisfied customers and ignore your “haters,” your business may be in trouble. Ultimately, if someone doesn’t like you, your product or your service, it’s almost always your fault.

Companies typically don’t put enough time into creating redundancies for our communications.

For example, Amazon has a brilliant policy to never answer the same question twice. If the same question is asked more than once, the implication is they’ve somehow failed with their content. The content is either not good enough, not in the right place or not comprehensive. While this may be difficult for companies to completely eradicate, when used as a guide for your organization, the mentality will serve your customers — and your business well.

One thing remains certain, when dealing with customer complaints, if we’re able to put our emotional reactions aside, there is almost always something at the source of the complaint that helps us make you company better. In today’s world of business, customer complaints have become a valuable business asset.

Brian Clark is a writer, traveler, and entrepreneur. He has created several successful 7-figure online businesses. He's the founder of Copyblogger, curator of Further, and your host for Unemployable

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