A guest post from Lindsay about negative feedback: something nobody wants, but we all have to deal with at some point. And if your organisation engages in social media, it is more likely that you’ll find out what people really think: negative as well as positive. So: how do you deal with it?
How Do You Deal with Negative Feedback?
Wouldn’t it be nice if all we ever heard were statements of reassurance and encouragement? Imagine a world devoid of criticism, misconception and condemnation. It would be a world full of warm fuzzies and butterflies and shiny happy people. But of course we don’t live in that world. We live in a reality that is often filled with more naysayers than supporters.
It’s how we deal with negativity that defines who we are, as individuals and as a business. Sometimes the critiques are warranted, and constructive. Other times, they are disheartening and destructive. But in any case we all need mechanisms to cope with negative feedback whether it comes from outside sources or inside our own minds. How we process and deal with criticism may in many ways define who we are.
Every business depends on their customers to survive. We’ve all heard the expression that “the customer is always right.” But does that apply to when they tell us that we’re wrong? When a customer has a negative experience do you have a system of recourse for an individual to inform the appropriate parties? And is it widely publicized? A hotline number printed on a receipt isn’t always enough to let a customer know you care about what they have to say. When a customer is fired up enough to want to complain about something, they will. And if you don’t offer them a way to do it directly, they will find another outlet, and the internet is all too happy to oblige. From copious review sites, to social media there are plenty for channels for dissatisfied customers to vent. And if it winds up on the web, it may be there forever. With the recent insurgence of integrated local results complete with customer comments, keeping online buzz positive is more important than ever.
While sometimes it’s easier to chalk an unhappy customer up to an isolated incident, that assumption is usually a tactic for burying your head in the sand. If it happened to one person, it’s probably happened before and probably will again. That’s why collecting consumer feedback is one of the most crucial points for any business development plan. Finding out where your strengths and weaknesses are in the customer’s eyes is probably the most valuable insight any company can have. We need that external perspective both positive and negative to determine what areas still need work. If you aren’t readily accepting complaints, and dealing with them in a meaningful way, then you may be ignoring a huge problem. Taking the time to address negative comments is good for improving customer service as well as improving internal functions.
No company has blissful employees all the time. We all grumble about the day to day grind and our petty quibbles with the corporate machine. But there’s a difference between meaningless grumbling and legitimate employee unrest. You hear phrases like ‘open door policy’ and ‘anonymous suggestion box’ but how true are these really? Is the boss’s door really open for innovators or just yes-men? Is the suggestion box really anonymous or is it right outside the nosy General Manager’s door? Are you really open to taking negative employee feedback, or are employees who offer constructive criticism viewed as ‘complainers’ and ‘pot-stirrers’? The truth is, many companies don’t have a place for employees to redress their deepest concerns.
Management sometimes has an unfortunate tendency to assume that they know best. But it’s the guys who are knee deep in the trenches that often have the most realistic view of where the biggest problems lie. Employees often have the most precise ideas about how to fix a flawed system. They know where the road blocks are or where efficiency can be improved. But that intel is only as useful as the internal process for collecting it. If all employee complaints fall on deaf ears that just don’t want to deal with ‘whiners’ you may be missing out on the innovation that could revolutionize your business.
Sometimes the worst negative feedback comes from within. Our own insecurities can be the most crippling cynicism we face. How do we cope when the voices telling us that we’re struggling, are in our own heads? Obviously, math doesn’t lie and numbers don’t sugar coat the news if your bottom line is plummeting. That’s not the kind of negativity I mean. This has more to do with fear. Change is scary, and when it comes to taking the next big step in business sometime the only thing holding us back is our own doubts. Questions like ‘If I try something and fail, can I recover?’, ‘Why re-invent the wheel if what we have now is working?’, ‘If the company grows can we keep the small business culture we all love so much?’. While these are all pretty specific, they represent different areas of running a company that often come up for examination. Whether it’s offering a new product or service, changing an internal structure or expanding the staff these every day challenges can pose major anxieties.
There are always specific issues that we shy away from because they carry risk and taking risks is frightening. But the fact is if you’re thinking about making changes to your business, and you have been taking in regular feedback from customers and employees, you may already know everything you need. Their opinions and views can often drive the changes that your company needs to make, and when you base decisions based on research then it become a lot less terrifying. If the demand is there from your customers, then a new product or service has a market. If tasks are falling through the cracks in the office, that’s a mandate for an organizational alteration. If your people are overworked, then expanding the staff is essential.
Dealing with negative feedback is something every business must face. But deciding how and when to use negativity as motivation is what allows businesses to thrive. So the question of ‘how do you deal with negative feedback?’ is really a question of how do you accept criticism and use it to learn and become better. Sure, we all must filter out the white noise from what is legitimately helpful, but being able to make that distinction is crucial. And whether the negativity is from customers, employees or yourself figuring out what is valid and what can make you better is what truly characterizes a great business with a bright future.
Lindsay is a Corporate Journalist at i-Sight, an Investigation Software program designed to help increase corporate efficiency dealing with internal and external feedback Lindsay has worked as an internet marketer, freelance writer, brand consultant and manager.