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Responding to Criticism

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

Let’s face it, opinions are like... well, let’s not go there. You get the picture--everybody has one, especially when you have a business that deals with the public. From the outside looking in, everything has a simple solution. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting better systems in place, which of course, I can help you with. Sometimes it’s a matter of putting better people in place, which I can also help you with. But sometimes, our best intentions backfire, and you have to respond to real criticism. In my experience, here are the best moves for the best outcomes.

Online reviews Not all bad reviews are worth getting upset over, but when you see a trend, you best pay attention. Whether it’s Yelp, Google, or Facebook, people want to tell the world about their everyday experiences, and you’re in the line of fire. It’s basically a numbers game, and there are ways to generate more positive reviews that will push the bad ones to the bottom and level out the score (yep, I can help you with that, too). But in the meantime, how do you respond? Human nature is to defend, to be right, but consider this: when you win an argument with a customer, you lose. So, how do you save face without losing a customer? Suck it up! Remember, their perspective is valid, unless it’s vengeful retaliation, i.e., disgruntled employee. Now, if it’s a faceless one-review wonder on Yelp, remember that it will get filtered out by their algorithm. On the other hand, if you got a bad review from the “Elite Member” with 436 friends and a couple hundred reviews, a tactful response is in order. First, thank them for their feedback, and for bringing the issue to your attention. Whether they are just looking for a fight, or they’re legitimately upset, this will diffuse their anger and make them realize they are dealing with a reasonable human being. If this is really a one-off incident, assure them that this has never happened, that you appreciate the opportunity to address the issue within your operation, and also with them as (hopefully) a repeat customer. Offer to welcome them back with a gift card of equal or greater value to the purchase with which they were displeased. When they return, they are likely to amend their review. Voila.

In store complaints

In store complaints should be handled swiftly and kindly. I once fired someone for arguing with a customer who insisted what they got was not what they ordered. For the love of Pete, apologize and give them what they (think they) ordered! Better yet, offer them a free refill or dessert for the mix-up. Again, this is an opportunity! Going above and beyond will turn that customer into a walking advertisement for your business, rather than just a mildly-pleased, perhaps-still-annoyed, maybe-might-come-back-because-it’s-convenient, customer. It sometimes helps to put yourself in their shoes. What treatment would you prefer? What would get you to go back?

The savior

We’ve all had the unsolicited recommendations--from friends, customers, and strangers alike. Sometimes they’re totally awesome. Most of the time, there’s a practical reason why you haven’t “done it that way” before. Regardless, be polite. Say thank you, have a chat, and offer them a free drink. If you argue, or prove them wrong, what exactly do you get out of that? Let them be your savior (and tell all their friends about it).

The take away

Most people who are dissatisfied will just never come back. Start looking at complaints as an opportunity to correct a part of your operation—and whatever you do, don’t ignore them! It’s also an opportunity to generate a loyal customer. If someone does you the favor of voicing a complaint, whether in person or online, now you know s/he isn’t shy. So, make it right and you’ll not only have a loyal customer, you’ll have a brand ambassador.


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