When Life Gives You Lemons: Sometimes Negative Feedback Isn’t Such a Bad Thing


Customer ComplaintsYou know what they say: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.

Actually, sometimes I get pretty tired of the things “they” say. The Lemonade Way of Life is a pretty Pollyanna view to take when running a business, especially when the lemons life has handed you come in the form of negative customer feedback. It can seem difficult to turn those negatives into a positive.

Good news: There are LOTS of other things to do with lemonade beyond grabbing your pitcher and sugar bowl. Lemons are great for cleaning up kitchen messes and removing odors. It can also cure a sore throat and even create natural blond hair highlights.

All that is to say: Dealing with negative feedback actually can be a boon to your business, if you handle it correctly. But handling these situations well takes grace and nuance, and there are a few things you should keep in mind first.

In any customer service situation, whether online or in person, you can never underestimate a customer’s influence in their community. If you notice a complaint on Twitter from someone with eight followers, don’t disparage them! One of those eight followers may be a community powerhouse who can amplify the situation far beyond anything you expected.

Similarly, one woman who makes an isolated complaint by phone or e-mail shouldn’t be ignored, either. You never know how active she is in her church community, for instance, or whether her monthly book club stays in constant contact about where to shop and which businesses to patronize. You just never know.

You should also remember that the old adage “The customer is always right” isn’t necessarily true, but the customer is always the customer. No one has the right to make personal attacks, but if your complaining customer’s grievances are legitimate, address them! Don’t let your pride or ego get in the way of taking the best care possible of those who do business with you.

With those things in mind, here are a couple of ideas on how to turn those negative-customer lemons into something far more desirable.

Gain some perspective

Even one complaint is cause for consideration, but if you start to hear negative feedback from different customers on the same issue or employee, maybe it’s time to take a step back and re-examine that aspect of your business.

Negative customer feedback can be a catalyst for changes that make a huge difference in how you run your business, whether it’s removing a bad apple from your staff or adding a much-needed service to your roster.

Make an example of yourself

Negative feedback on social media can be especially powerful…in a good way! If a customer makes a public complaint on Twitter or your Facebook Page — even one you’re initially tempted to delete — take the high road and correct it out in the open instead.

Set the example for everyone who follows you online that you look forward to handling challenges to make the experience better for your customers! Respond directly and, if it makes sense to do so, follow up later talking about the changes you’ve made thanks to an outspoken customer.

Be a hero

If you’ve ever made good on a customer’s negative feedback, you know that feeling is almost more satisfying (for them and you!) than doing right by them in the first place.

Don’t just respond to a complaint. Go above and beyond in addressing their concerns, and become a hero in their eyes. Whether your business deals in food, clothing, services or experiences, you know how best to recover and exceed your customer’s expectations in the process, even if it’s as simple as offering them a loyalty bonus or a gift, like a Restaurant.com Gift Card, for their trouble.

This idea goes back to that question of customer influence. You just never know who a customer keeps company with, or how far their negative experience might travel in the end.

Bottom line: When life hands you lemons, there’s a lot you can do with them. And, in the end, if all you really want to do is make lemonade, you should at least make enough to share with your customers!

Maybe it’ll take some of the sour grapes out of their negative experience.