You can’t be friends with everyone.
Some people aren’t going to like you. Some customers will walk away disappointed.
These are the realities of running a business. It doesn’t matter how strongly you prioritize customer service and customer success, some customers are going to complain.
Young startups feel this the most. They only have a handful of customers, so a few complaints are a blow to their egos. They can’t turn to a user base of thousands for assurances. Plus, resources are tight. They can’t provide as much of their attention as they would like.
But that doesn’t mean that negative feedback should be ignored.
All Feedback Is Useful
Anytime a customer or user takes the time to send you feedback, you should rejoice.
Sure, sometimes the customer will be upset. They might even be angry or use unconstructive language.
Just keep in mind that the customer is giving you an opportunity to learn; an opportunity to improve your product. If you can set your ego aside and critically look at your product and business, any bit of feedback can be used to strengthen your SaaS.
Positive feedback is encouraging, but it rarely helps. You already know what you’re good at. Negative feedback, however, points you at the areas you can improve. A complaint is a big neon sign that says “FIX THIS TO MAKE MORE MONEY.”
You’re likely familiar with the Lean Startup methodology. The build-measure-learn feedback is an exercise most SaaS businesses use to improve their product. User feedback is a big part of the “learn” phase of product iteration.
The beauty of software is that you can change the product in response to complaints. So unlike physical products where negative feedback is best minimized and handled quietly, SaaS complaints are a chance to make your product and service better.
Understand the Complaint
Before you can take steps to respond to negative feedback, you have to understand why the customer is complaining. Something made them upset. What triggered the behavior?
In many cases, the original complaint will tell you everything you need.
Let’s say a customer signed up for your payroll software, but didn’t realize that you specialize in helping small businesses. His company is too large and requires elaborate features that you don’t provide. He may label you “ineffective” and “unfinished.”
It’s obvious from his complaint that his challenges are real. He is frustrated because he purchased a product that doesn’t help him. You could dismiss the customer as a poor fit, but that doesn’t help anyone. Instead, use his feedback to improve your marketing (perhaps your website copy) to make your product’s intended use more clear.
In other cases, customers won’t be as clear. They’ll fail to provide details and use general words like “disappointed,” “unprofessional,” and “dissatisfied.” These complaints don’t help you solve the customer’s problem or improve your product.
If you don’t feel that the customer has provided enough information, ask for more. Don’t be condescending or overly suspicious, but don’t admit fault or apologize until you know the full story.
When we’re emotionally investing in something, we have a tendency to take negative feedback to heart. Resist this urge at all costs. Respond to the feedback quickly, but not immediately. Give yourself and the complainer at least two hours to cool off. (Exceptions apply here. If the customer is experiencing severe hardships – like revenue loss – get on the phone.)
Always respond in an intelligent, thoughtful manner. You care what they have to say, so make sure the sentiment comes across.
If you are replying publicly, be especially cautious (email is considered public; it’s easy to forward around). Speak in terms of solutions, not problems. Make sure to thank the customer for the feedback, no matter how much that sentence hurts to write/say. All feedback is a gift.
Sometimes a customer will be wrong. They’ll misremember, misread, or insist that you help them in a ludicrous manner. If you assessed the situation objectively, it’s alright to correct the customer. Don’t feel the need to apologize for everything, but recognize that sometimes it’s smart to rectify a problem that isn’t your fault. In many cases, solving unrelated problems is a big part of customer success.
A few days after you have proposed a solution, follow up with the dissatisfied customer so they understand that you genuinely want to solve their problem. Ask if they have taken your advice or used your solution. Offer further help. If they don’t reply, don’t harass them.
Even if you can’t provide a solution, respond anyway. The service recovery paradox is when a customer thinks better of a company after the company has apologized for a mistake than if the company had never made the mistake in the first place. It doesn’t work for big failures and it doesn’t work repeatedly for the same customer, but a failure on your end does not instantly end a relationship.
A Harris Poll survey found that responding to negative feedback online is a smart tactic. 33% of people who leave negative reviews online will post a positive review if a company responds, and 34% will delete their original review. The key is to respond quickly, accurately, thoughtfully, and address their complaints.
Improve Your Business
Once you have handled a complaint, your work isn’t finished. You need to catalog them so you can identify patterns.
Complaints will rarely be uniform, but they can often be solved with similar solutions. Let’s return to our example from before – the customer who wasn’t a fit for your payroll software. Perhaps you had another customer who misunderstood your product for accounting software, or a customer who wasn’t aware she could only list 15 employees.
In our example, each complaint is different, but they share a commonality: The customers purchased your software without understanding it. You should adjust your marketing to better educate your customers. This solution won’t help the complainants, but you’ll prevent future problems.
Keep in mind that anytime a customer sends negative feedback, there are several more who choose to say nothing. According to Help Scout, “a typical business hears from 4% of its dissatisfied customers.” They’ll think it. They’ll tell their friends. But they won’t come to you. The smart solution is to fix whatever triggered the poor feedback so it stops happening.
Create a Feedback Process
Smart businesses use processes so they don’t solve the same problems over and over.
Create, document and implement a system to deal with negative feedback, especially if you have a large team. The process should tackle negative feedback immediately in a consistent manner.
As CSM Wire suggests, this feedback process should integrate with your customer success team. “The customer success team should also develop a library of standard messaging that can be quickly accessed during an urgent situation. Standard update and maintenance communications can be customized as necessary.”
Feedback is so important, in fact, that seeking feedback should be a part of your process. Social media is a good tool for this, but it’s also smart to build features into your app for immediate communication, like live chat, review prompts, and popup surveys.
The key to handling negative feedback is to not sit idle.
If you receive feedback and fail to address it, the likelihood of churn skyrockets. Even if the problem wasn’t a big deal to the customer, your unwillingness to address it exacerbates the problem. Suddenly the customer feels unappreciated and unvalued. Instead of a polite “I need help” email, the customer publically criticizes your company on social media. Not good.
If you respond to your upset users and continually refine your process for handling feedback, you’ll retain users and squash your churn.
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