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Raining on your parade?

Written by Josh Russell on Monday, 05 November 2012. Posted in PR, Sales & Marketing

While it’s tempting to take bad reviews personally, if you learn to deal with them properly, your harshest critics can become your greatest allies

Raining on your parade?

It’s difficult to accept that not everyone is going to like what you do. No matter how hard you work on something, there’s always going to be one person for whom it doesn’t hit home. Whether you’re the late Steve Jobs or our very own start-up diarist Nicola Barron, eventually there will be someone with a cross to bear who will take a swipe at your business. And that’s something that can be incredibly hard to deal with. If businesses are their owners’ babies, negative feedback is like their young children being bullied at school. Fortunately, there are often ways to turn this into an opportunity.

First of all, recognise you aren’t the only one. Everyone gets negative reviews and, while they can be difficult to stomach, you can guarantee someone else has had it worse. Imagine receiving this glowing praise: “I seriously wish there was a “hated it” option instead of a simple “didn’t like it”, because frankly I loath this” (sic). It’s hard to think of a more damning statement and you would think it must have sent its target scurrying to bury their head under the duvet – except that its target was William Shakespeare. 

Yes. That William Shakespeare. The most celebrated writer the English language has ever known– and potentially ever will. Given the above is only one of more than 25,000 execrable one-star reviews the Bard’s Romeo and Juliet has received on goodreads.com alone, that should really put your own negative reviews in perspective.

However, even though negative feedback is a fact of life, like rising damp, you ignore it at your peril. It’s generally a sign that somewhere something has gone wrong and this is a problem that needs addressing before you end up with a bad case of brand subsidence. A recent example is that of Facebook in its response to people’s fears that old private messages were being posted publicly to their timelines. Given its long experience of working in a very privacy conscious market, you would think the social media giant would know how to handle a contentious issue like this. So what was its solution? It told the users they were mistaken and denied there was a problem. Regardless of the truth of the situation, this isn’t a tactic that showed much respect for its users and not only did many threaten to switch off the service as a result but it also led to the company’s share price tumbling 9.1%.

One of the most important things you can do to handle criticism of your brand is to show you understand and appreciate the consumer’s concerns. You can’t necessarily fix every fault with your service but you can show that you’re at least committed to taking the feedback seriously. If someone has taken the time to write a negative review of your product, it’s unlikely to be simply random malice – they almost certainly have real concerns that they’d like addressed. Even if you can’t respond and fix everything on a case by case basis, showing you’re committed to taking on board the feedback of your customers will undoubtedly ease the frustration they feel when things do go wrong.

Seeing negative events as blessings in disguise may be a cliché, but like most clichés it came into existence largely because it describes a universal truth. When you talk to business savvy entrepreneurs, they tend to frame negative reviews in the same way – the phrase you’ll often hear is, “It’s an opportunity to improve your service.” Effectively, criticism – even if it isn’t framed in the most constructive way – is product feedback and as such is an incredibly valuable tool, the sort large companies pay significant sums of money for. The death of any saleable service or product begins when you lose contact with objective criticism; surrounding yourself with only favourable responses prevents you from attempting to innovate and inevitably stagnation follows.

However, a bad review isn’t just a chance to improve what you’re bringing to the table. The way you respond actually allows you to say far more about your business than the original criticism ever could. A recent viral video does a far better job of illustrating this point than any amount of dry marketing theory could.

Richard Neil’s humourous rant about the dramatic licence taken in the advertising of female hygiene products on the Bodyform Facebook page hardly constitutes damning criticism – but some bright spark at the company’s head offices realised how a similarly light-hearted response could piggyback on the original post’s virality. The resulting video apology from the company’s ‘CEO’ made national headlines and has demonstrated how much the public respects a company that is able to laugh at itself.

Clearly, issuing a self-deprecating video every time you get a bad review on a blog or someone gives your product a single star on Amazon is going to result in rapidly diminishing returns, but there is still a clear lesson to learn from Bodyform’s little jape. Essentially, there is great value in letting people see that your enterprise is comprised of human beings; there’s very little people respect quite as much as transparency. If you’re able to show them that you aren’t just a stuffed shirt in an office, they’re far more likely to warm to you than if you start throwing around threats and lawsuits. Additionally, if people feel you’re happy to engage with their worries and criticisms rather than hide behind your brand and PR agency, it’s more likely they’ll feel comfortable engaging with you directly, rather than feeling the need to issue an indirect attack online.

None of us likes being criticised and there are always times when a scathing review touches a sore spot. But the sting can easily be salved with the right treatment. If you have a solid service or product, there’s little damage a bad review can do to you – but the opportunity it represents really can’t be underestimated.

About the Author

Josh Russell

Josh Russell

As editor, Russell is the man in charge of properly apostrophising our publication and ensuring Oxford commas are mercilessly excised. Our digital doyen, he’s also a Photoshop Pro, a dab hand with InDesign and the man to go to if you need a four-hour soliloquy about the UK's best silicon startups.

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