How Brands Can Respond Appropriately to Feedback and CriticismIn the age of TikTok virality and Yelp reviews, it’s common for brands to feel the impact of a bad customer experience, and it’s no secret consumers often believe what they see and read online. In the 2022 ReviewTracker online trends report, 94% of consumers admitted that a bad review had convinced them to avoid a business

As scathing as a bad review can be, a brand’s response to public scrutiny has the power to either reclaim the narrative – or make the situation worse. In many cases, a brand’s poor response to criticism can do more damage than the bad review itself. 

Determining When a Response is Appropriate

While it may be tempting to ignore a bad review, crafting a thoughtful response provides brands the opportunity to learn from a situation turned sour. Responding appropriately to feedback can also help mend a broken relationship with a customer, and making a habit of responding to feedback indicates that your business is willing to listen. In fact, 67% of negative reviewers reported an improved opinion of a brand or a business following a thoughtful response to their review

Of course, there are instances when a company response to an innocuous complaint can be considered unnecessary. Two- and three-star reviews are something every brand will deal with eventually; in matters of customer preferences, it may be best to accept that not every product or service is universally going to work for every type of consumer. Customer service teams are typically equipped to handle these situations by providing refunds or exchanges. 

Alternatively, there are times when a simple approach to a negative customer experience is not enough. Depending on the scale of the situation, bad publicity can haunt brands for years, and the fallout of a public incident can be difficult to bounce back from. 

In a crisis, it’s important to assess the situation at hand to best determine how to proceed. Be sure to ask the following questions:

  • What is the main complaint?
  • Who does it involve?
  • What is the public reaction?
  • Where is the discussion taking place? 

Apprising all the details will help inform the severity of a situation and the appropriate course of action. If there is a significant shift in public opinion, issuing a statement might be necessary, but it also may not be enough. A sudden influx of negative attention will generate feedback directly from the customers – this provides an opportunity to learn from the situation, apologize to the public and present a solution. Listen to what your customers are saying and what they’re demanding. Failure to take action could result in boycotts and significant damage to your brand’s reputation. 

Proactive Responses to Crisis Situations

Proactive responses are multi-layered and will include different elements working in tangent of one another. A proactive response to a situation of public scrutiny requires a business to take accountability for their mistakes and address the steps it will take to ensure the situation does not occur again. Reiterate your brand’s messaging and values and reassure your customers that their feedback is taken seriously. Consider all the factors that allowed the incident at hand to occur and determine where it all went wrong. Did an employee do something offensive? Was an ad received in poor taste? Is the brand working in partnership with a controversial third-party? 

The key here is to address the public and the customer base with actionable measures to rectify the situation that positions your business in a bad light. Issuing a statement and conducting an internal investigation is only the beginning. Assess the situation from every angle to ensure customer demands are met, public opinion is restored and that steps are taken to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future. Depending on the situation, it may be important for your brand to implement sensitivity training, terminate associations with bad actors, roll-out tighter security and data encryption measures, or even revamp the customer service policies as a whole. There are many different types of crisis scenarios and even more ways to deal with them. Negative feedback opens the door for brands and businesses to learn, adapt and evolve – accountable and actionable communication is critical in gaining back the public’s trust. 

The Value of Transparency and Sincerity

Public statements and responses to feedback should always be sincere and honest. Oftentimes, customers express their frustration to feel validated in their experience. By offering a sincere and transparent acknowledgement of their feedback, you are assuring your customer that they are valued and appreciated. 

Using the right tone when responding to feedback is critical to the effectiveness of your statement or response. Avoid defensive and dismissive language, and instead, opt to maintain a level and professional tone that expresses understanding of the customer’s concerns. Look at the situation from their perspective and consider how you would like the situation to be handled if the roles were reversed. 

A sincere and honest approach to customer complaints can help your business get in the habit of engaging with customers regularly. This gradual exchange of information over time can help your business work out the common issues that arise frequently, improving the customer experience altogether. In fact, research shows that customer relations teams are some of the most frequently involved in crisis situations

Other Considerations

It’s important to keep in mind that handling criticism openly does not necessarily mean all responses should be public. Most times, it’s best to reach out to a disgruntled customer privately. The scale of the complaint should always be one of the main considerations when determining a course of action. 

Another consideration to keep in mind is search engine optimization (SEO). Brands can build online traffic and generate positive SEO results through the number of reviews received. SEO can affect a brand’s placement through online searches, which incentivizes brands to boost positive associations and keywords whenever possible. It’s also worth mentioning that about 64% of customers are likely to read reviews before visiting a local business, underscoring the growing significance of reviews to SEO. Social media visibility is also a great way to build online presence and can contribute positively toward your brand’s SEO by using backlinks to generate traffic to your brand’s website. 

The bottom line is, responding to feedback, whether positive or negative, can have a lasting effect on the public perception of your brand. With much of public discourse occurring in online spaces and leaving digital footprints, it’s a lot easier for customers to share their opinions and experiences. Responding to feedback is critical to determining areas of improvement for your brand while simultaneously acknowledging customers’ thoughts, both good and bad. Crisis situations require additional nuance to navigate them, but the end goal is the same – reassure customers you take their suggestions seriously and that your brand will work to improve moving forward. It doesn’t take much for scrutiny to snowball, but a thoughtful and thorough approach can help your brand weather the storm. 

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