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Negative Feedback? Even When You Hate It, Here’s How to Productively Use Feedback

Step 1: Embrace feedback as valuable (if painful) information My sister and my son are each in the restaurant business, and although they have different opinions about a number of issues, they agree about one thing: Yelp, the crowd-sourced review foru…

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BY Alison Davis - 10 Aug 2018

Negative Feedback? Even When You Hate It, Here's How to Productively Use Feedback

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Step 1: Embrace feedback as valuable (if painful) information

My sister and my son are each in the restaurant business, and although they have different opinions about a number of issues, they agree about one thing: Yelp, the crowd-sourced review forum, can be painful.

Sure, there's the joy (and potential business boost) of positive reviews. But then there are the people who whine, complain, bitch, rant and otherwise spread their negativity through cyberspace. Some reviewers have a legitimate complaint, while others just seem to enjoy venting. Sigh.

It's natural to hate negative feedback--after all, who wants to hear that you're making a big effort and it's not being well received? In fact, it's so natural to despise feedback that I've encountered a number of leaders who behaved badly when they received less-than-stellar information:

  • The division president, who was angry because employees who participated in focus groups were "negative" about his quarterly all-hands meetings. Employees thought those sessions could be a lot more effective: more candid, more specific, more participative.
  • The CEO, who was unhappy because results from the latest employee attitude survey were significantly lower than the last time the survey was conducted. The data clearly indicated that a significant percentage of employees were dissatisfied with several aspects of the company.

The trouble with feedback, after all, is it makes you feel vulnerable. You have to be open to the notion that people will have viewpoints that may be critical, messy, irrational, demanding and unappreciative. This honesty may make you uncomfortable. It may make you mad. You may want to question it. You may even want to quit.

But the best thing to do with feedback, says Steve Degnan, vice president of HR at Nestl Purina PetCare, is to use it to your advantage. In an article in Human Resources Executive, Degnan described how his team uses reviews posted on online job sites like Glassdoor to make positive workplace changes.

Roughly 7 percent of the 200 reviews that Nestl Purina PetCare employees or ex-employees post on job sites are negative. The comments may address terminations, politics, personality conflicts or frustration with promotions.

Whether the reviews are positive or negative, Degnan' believes that the best strategy is "honesty and authenticity." So the HR team takes action on every review:

  • First, someone--usually someone from Human Resources--is assigned to respond to the review on the job site.
  • Next, reviews and their responses are published in the employee newsletter.
  • And finally, the HR team meets to see whether action should be taken to address each review.

"Although some reviews appear to have no factual basis, Degnan believes they usually contain one kernel of truth," reports the HR Executive article. "The takeaway, he says, is to perceive job sites as free engagement surveys that offer instantaneous data about your organization. Reviews generally offer valuable information to companies about blind spots, enabling them to fix or repair issues and better recruit or retain skilled workers."

What can we learn about responding to any type of negative feedback from Nestl Purina PetCare's approach? Nicole Fallon, a writer for Business News Daily, agrees that every negative customer review can be turned into a positive opportunity.

Fallon quotes Phil Penton, CEO of the automotive digital marketing agency Xcite Advertising: "Answering negative reviews builds confidence in your business and your brand. When you answer a negative review and address the upset customer, you are also speaking to the hundreds of other consumers that want to know how you conduct your business. Consumers understand that mistakes happen, so when they see a business trying to do the right thing, it builds trust."

But, writes Fallon, "it's not enough to simply acknowledge an unsatisfied customer. The trick is to respond in such a way that they will want to give your business another chance, thereby proving to other potential buyers that your business has top-notch customer service."

Fallon suggests that you follow these four steps to handle negative reviews:

  1. Answer quickly with a personalized response. "It's important to give each reviewer a customized response that cites specific details from their complaint. A generic stock response will make your brand appear impersonal and drive the customer further away."
  2. Empathize and, if necessary, apologize. When responding to a bad review, express understanding and empathy without blaming the customer, and be apologetic about the less-than-ideal experience.
  3. Ask for a second chance. If you've made a mistake, make amends by offering a coupon, voucher or replacement product. That helps you earn a second chance, Penton says.
  4. Encourage more reviews. "It's not easy to take criticism, especially from the people who matter most to your business," writes Fallon. "But using negative reviews to improve your customer service will provide a track record that shows you're truly committed"--to your customers, employees or other stakeholders.


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