How to Turn Negative Customer Feedback into Business Collateral

Let's face it, customer complaints come with an inherent negative connotation. As a business owner, accepting the criticism can be tough; addressing the complaints can be even harder. It's easy to get defensive or even deny the unfavorable feedback.

In this digital age, the reality is that a company's sterling reputation can be damaged overnight due to a viral video or a poorly executed social campaign. That's why business owners need to take a step back and learn to use customer feedback. This is where a good customer complaint management process can change your perception of such complaints.

After a poor experience, most customers would rather leave than complain. In fact, only about 4 percent of customers say anything at all. Negative feedback should be carefully examined to make a change or provide a solution, a stepping stone to better understanding your customers' needs. Remember, every complaint equals an opportunity to salvage a customer relationship.

Furthermore, if one customer complains about something, expect there to be plenty more where that came from. If you take the time from the beginning to get to the root of the issue you are proving to your customers that you value their business. By salvaging one, you are salvaging many more customer relationships and establishing a foundation of mutual trust and understanding.

Although some customer complaints are more challenging that others, it's imperative to address all of them and handle each one on a case-by-case basis. Some will require a deep analysis of the current status quo and force you to come up with new norms; that's business. By adapting to your customers and their needs, you are setting up your business for next-level success.

Turning lemons into lemonade

As a business owner, it's your job to turn a customer complaint into an opportunity to improve customer loyalty. Resolving a complaint is a way to test the effectiveness of your complaint management process. If handled properly, loyalty will have been earned with that particular customer. But just as important is that others will take note of how you resolved the issue. By taking the time to individually address and resolve your customers' problems, you turn them into loyal evangelists willing to organically promote your brand.

Customer complaints can unearth problems you never knew existed. Running a business involves various day-to-day operations, and it's easy to lose sight of your priority, which should be pleasing your customers. When customers complain, they are taking the time to bring the issue to light to be resolved rather than bailing on your business altogether. Your responsiveness and willingness to amend the issue is critical.

The caveat of customer complaints? They must be handled properly to benefit your business. This requires an effective customer complaint management system.

Read on for a few tips to consider when designing the right system for your business:

1. Listen up: understand your customers' complaints.

Listening is critical to good complaint management. Before you can resolve an issue, you need to understand why the customer is complaining and what is necessary to find a solution. There is a delicate balance between the quality of service and the time taken to resolve it. Don't underservice and address the problem with haste.

2. It's never too late to say sorry.

Nothing beats a sincere apology. Never deflect, avoid, or blame the customer. This is not conducive to building a lasting and profitable relationship. Making mistakes is human; there's no need to freak out at the idea of admitting your company made one.

3. Identify the problem and fix it.

Any issue is not solved with a simple apology. Go the extra mile and actually fix the problem. If there's a reoccurring issue, you might need to take a closer look and make some foundational or organizational changes. Find the source of the problem and tackle it.

4. Circle back with your customers.

After you've identified the source of the problem and created a solution, follow up with customers to make sure they are happy with your approach. Email, call, ask for their feedback. Regardless of how you do it, make sure your customers are pleased with how you solved their problems. Considering 68 percent of customers leave companies because they feel abandoned, this is essential.

5. When in doubt, delight!

You've fixed their problems and they're happy. You think you're done, but there's still more to do if you want loyal customers for life. Now is the time to strike, delighting them by exceeding their expectations.

Offer your customer something of value, like a discount on their next transaction or a free item for the hassle. The customer will remember this specific interaction most about your company and will spread the word, telling others that your company went the extra mile. No amount of money can generate that kind of organic word-of-mouth advertising.

Customer complaints can be a great thing for your business, but only if they're handled correctly. So, if you want to grow your business, dominate your industry, and have an army of loyal customers, take advantage of these complaints through an effective and powerful customer complaint management process.

Rose Bentley is senior vice president of sales and general manager for North America at CloudCherry, a voice of the customer product company. She has more than 10 years of leadership expertise in sales and customer success.