Negative Feedback
No one likes being criticized; it just doesn't feel good. For a small business owner, online criticism can be especially troubling: it is often anonymous, and can seem to come completely out of the blue. Receiving such criticism, It is easy to feel attacked, and discouraged. However, there is one thing you have to remember:

Not all negative feedback is created equal. There is a difference between “Unfortunately, we were unable to find a phone number on the website and when we went by the store it was closed” and “YOU SUUUUUUCK!” The first step in dealing with online criticism is differentiating between types of criticism, some of which are actually helpful, and some of which (see: “YOU SUUUUUUCK!”) are not.

THE PROBLEM:

Simple misunderstanding. Sometimes customers are just confused. If they complain that you gave them the worst oil change in the history of the world, and you are actually a bagel shop, they've probably got the wrong guy.

HOW TO FIX IT:

This is the easiest mistake to rectify. If you are on a business network site like BizPagesAtCA that allows for direct interaction with customers in the community, then you can just write the commenter and explain that you think he might have been looking for another business, wish him luck on finding a decent oil change, and what the heck, offer him a free bagel if he would like to come in and check out your actual business. Otherwise, writing a follow-up comment after the review is acceptable, and in this case, even probably ignoring it is a fine thing to do. Unless for some reason you have decided to name your bagel shop “Joe's Oil Change and Lube” in which case you're probably gonna want to rethink your branding, bagel-shop-wise.

THE PROBLEM:

Honest mistake. Sometimes you will read a negative comment or review of your business and you will know exactly what the client is talking about and when she must have come in: “Oh no! That must have been Wednesday morning when the grinder broke and Lucas called in sick and that poor trainee was stuck manning the counter solo for two hours.” Bad things happen to the best of us, and no matter how conscientious and professional you and your employees are, events will conspire to ensure that some days just don't go your way. Or in the immortal words of Led Zeppelin: “Upon us all/ A little rain must fall.”

HOW TO FIX IT:

One of the best things about human beings is that no matter how aggravated they get when they are upset about something, they tend to calm right down—and can even become downright sympathetic—if someone just explains to them the reason for the delay/poor service/faulty product. This is why road signs will sometimes be used to inform people stuck in a traffic jam of construction, or of an accident up ahead: even though knowing the reason doesn't make us go any faster, it at least makes us feel like we at least have a little bit more control over the situation; we have been informed. In writing a response to this sort of client, the most important thing is to be honest, non-defensive, and apologetic as you clearly inform her the reasons for your business' (temporarily, uncharacteristically) subpar performance. And inviting them in for a free/discounted X, Y, or Z—to see for themselves what an anomaly their experience was—is never a bad idea.

THE PROBLEM:

Good points...and not-so-good points. Much as we may hate to admit it, none of us are perfect. Small business owners are well aware that there is always room for improvement. That's why some negative feedback can actually be positive in the long run, if it contains constructive criticism, highlighting an area of our business where we could stand to do things a little (or a lot) differently. While it can be tempting to take any criticism personally, it's important to remember that in making such comments, our customers are actually doing us a favor: pointing out an area where we are coming up short, or at least where they perceive that we are coming up short. This is actually an important distinction: some criticism, while offered constructively, might just not be very useful to us. If a customer comments that he wished your pizzeria served sandwiches too, that can be good to know but doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to rush out and change your entire business plan.

HOW TO FIX IT:

Constructive criticism definitely deserves a response. If it is criticism that you are acting on, then besides thanking your customer for her time and feedback you'll also want to let her know the steps you are taking to address the complaint specifically. If you aren't planning on acting on the feedback, then after thanking the customer, you can offer an explanation for the reason that you do things the way you do, and why you won't be changing that at present. In both cases, offering the commenter a partial discount or even refund may be a good idea.

THE PROBLEM:

Spam and Nonsense. “You suuuuuuuck”, “Omigod this place totally has flees”, “The food is soo bad here, try Buster's 2 X 1 Sundays!!!!!” If you recognize any of the above comments, then you have been the victim of spam (advertisements for other businesses posing as criticism of yours) and trolling (the internet activity of trying to make strangers angry so that they will react and you can laugh at them. It's popular with adolescents and adults with the maturity level of adolescents, especially those who don't get outside a lot).

HOW TO FIX IT:

Unlike with the other sorts of negative feedback, the worst way to deal with spam or trolling is to respond at all. It is a waste of your time and your energy, and a gratification to your attackers, who love the idea of getting a rise out of you. If you can remove the content yourself, do it. If not, you will want to flag it as spam or notify the system administrator to get it taken down. But remember: if for whatever reason it's proving difficult to get the offending comments taken down, just ignore them. Most people recognize spam and trolling for what they are, and tune them out. Concentrate on addressing those comments and criticisms that do merit your attention, and your business—and your customers—will be all the happier for it!

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