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How to use negative feedback to benefit your brand

How to use negative feedback to benefit your brand Jamie Pappas

Social media is a conversation, and like all conversations, there will be things said about brands. A number of brands may agree with those opinions, and others may disagree. Some opinions may even make a brand cringe. In fact, most brands would prefer that all commentary and conversation surrounding their names be positive, and most would prefer that there be no negative commentary surrounding their brands at all. That is a big mistake.

Negative commentary in social media is positive for most brands, although it is hard to see it that way. Keep an open mind on this one. Negative feedback is positive because a negative comment means that the consumers still care -- they care enough to engage with your brand, even if in a negative fashion. They care enough about the brand to give you an opportunity to fix the situation and convince them that your brand cares as much about them as they do about the brand.

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We always have a choice
As in all things, brands have two choices. Some brands know negative sentiment is out there, but they ignore it. Other brands know it's out there, respond to it, and even embrace it. How your brand handles negative feedback and commentary is critical to its overall perception and image.

A brand that pretends there are no negative qualities about it will ultimately lose the respect and loyalty of its consumers, and will ultimately suffer from both a reputation and revenue perspective.

A brand that embraces feedback -- both positive and negative will be seen as open and receptive to its customer base. By acknowledging your imperfections in a transparent and authentic manner, you will find that you have an opportunity to convert some of your most negative critics into your strongest brand advocates.

Look at these examples of how to turn negative feedback into positive spin:

The Comcast Corp.
Comcast has long had a reputation for less than stellar customer service. Just Google it, and you'll see conversations and commentary that Comcast probably wishes weren't still indexed. Comcast was well aware of this situation, and it took it very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it decided it needed to address the situation, but in a positive way. The company decided it would embrace the feedback, re-invent its reputation, and turn its brand detractors into brand advocates.

Frank Eliason, current SVP of social media at Citibank, former director of customer service (or as Comcast calls it -- digital care) established the well-known and often discussed Twitter handle, @ComcastCares, to address customer feedback. Eliason also had a direct line to customer service in order to prioritize issues as needed. The result has been a positive one. Comcast users have learned very quickly that they can reach out to Comcast on Twitter and know they will get a response, and that steps will be taken to resolve their problems because they are important to the cable giant. With this level of interaction and attention, consumers suddenly become people, no longer just a number among thousands or millions of other cable subscribers. Now when you Google Comcast, you will see some great comments about the company too.

If you haven't heard of @ComcastCares, perhaps you've heard of Dell Hell. Another corporate giant, Dell, faced issues with its customer service reputation that reached its peak with the 2005 incident involving media consultant and blogger Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis purchased a laptop that started malfunctioning nearly from the start. Jarvis returned the laptop through customer service, and began an account of the tale on his blog. When he received it back, and it still didn't work, he continued to post to his blog. Soon the masses joined in. This was the start of the Dell Hell often heard of today. With other frustrated Dell customers aggregating their frustration, the small situation turned into a very big one. Long story short -- the situation was resolved, Jarvis got a refund, and the noise died down. But the heart of the situation lived on, and Dell knew it needed to react.

Today, Dell operates many successful social media sites, including a robust presence on Twitter with real people available to Dell customers. There are service representatives that focus solely on connecting with customers and putting a face to the Dell name. @DellCares' self-proclaimed mission is to "listen, help, and provide proactive info to our customers." With real people and individual Twitter handles like @RichardatDell, Dell strives to add a personal touch to the experience. In fact, Dell has been so successful in engaging with its customers using social media that it's won many awards for its participation. That's quite a turn-around. 

Customers need to be heard
In his final blog letter to Michael Dell, Jarvis offered some advice -- the most important of which businesses must still take to heart -- talk with your customers. With social media becoming a mainstream mode of contact, communication is more important now than ever before.

Customers want to be a part of the brand experience. No, they expect to be a part of the brand experience. They are invested in the brand when they make a purchase, and in return, they expect the brand to be invested in them. They have a different perspective to offer, and although brands may not always agree with them, ignoring them is not the solution to this situation. Embracing feedback, both positive and negative, will pay off in dividends for the brand that does it well.

Here are five tips for addressing negative feedback:

  1. Identify the motivation behind the feedback. The first step is to determine why the complaint is coming in: Why is the person reaching out to your brand? Is the person's frustration a matter of a poor experience with people, with your product, or with a retailer where he or she purchased your product? Is there substantiated evidence behind the feedback that you can understand and respond to?

  2. Determine the most appropriate response. In order to respond to the complaint appropriately, you'll need to determine what the customer expects the resolution to be and decipher how you can further assist with this issue. What does this person want? Does he or she just want acknowledgement of the issue and an apology, or is the person looking for a refund or a replacement product? Is there an opportunity to educate the person, in a positive and informative way, on how to use the product?

  3. Remain calm and positive. Do not become angry with a customer for sharing his or her feedback. Anger begets anger, and frustration begets frustration. Instead, remain calm and stay positive when engaging with the customer, no matter what the response. It will reflect positively on you and your business, and most importantly, other customers will take note.

  4. Respond and correct. Engage with the customer and respond through your plan of action and the appropriate response you've identified. If you are not successful in addressing the customer's frustration, then perhaps you've identified the motivation incorrectly, or perhaps he or she is a troll who can't be helped.

  5. Don't feed the trolls. There will always be people who complain in order to stir up trouble without merit. However, do not make this your first assumption when you see a complaint or negative commentary -- your first mission is to understand and engage. See if you can help, and it will become evident very quickly if the person desires to be heard and helped, or if the person simply wants to stir up trouble and controversy. If you happen to determine it's the latter, don't feed the trolls. Negative online banter is not productive and will most likely damage your brand's image. There will always be people who can't be won over. And that's OK. At least you tried. When all else fails, refer to step three above.

There's always a lesson
In all the feedback brands receive from customers, there is always a lesson to be learned. Sometimes, you learn that you didn't communicate clearly with customers in the first place. That means there is an opportunity for clarity in the future. Maybe you didn't offer the resources they needed to use the product effectively. There's an opportunity to educate in the future. Maybe you made a bad widget. There's an opportunity to provide feedback to product development and product engineering to remedy the situation for future products. And sometimes, people just need to be heard. There's an opportunity to develop an authentic and lasting relationship with your customers in which they are a part of your strategic direction and feedback loop. Learn to embrace their feedback, channel it to the appropriate places, and let them know that you're working on it.

Embrace it
Social media really isn't an option any longer. The days of brands owning their images, reputations, and communications are long gone. It is the age of the customer -- and customers listen to and trust other customers. Conversations are happening at a rapid pace, and you must make an effort to get your brand out there and be available to your customers with authentic and quick responses. Take the negative commentary and feedback and turn it into a positive. Enable your customers to be honest with you, and thank them for it. They will turn into your biggest fans, and they will thank you for it. Once they're fans, they will be more than willing to recommend you to others. Trust me on this one.

Jamie Pappas is vice president of social media at AMP Agency.

On Twitter? Follow her at @JamiePappas. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

I am the Principal and Founder of Pappas Advisors where I assist organizations of all sizes in the development and execution of integrated social media marketing and communication programs in support of their goals and objectives. Based on...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Spencer Broome

2011, September 15

Without negative feedback, you would never know where you can improve.

Commenter: Bill Kantar

2011, September 15

Great article! Thanks for hitting the nail on the head. I am surprised how often we hear from brands their reluctance to engage in an authentic conversation with their customers. That's a missed opportunity.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, September 15

It's imperative that you learn to separate the trolls from the real customers with real issues! You don't want to get involved in a social war with a troll, but you can't afford to ignore your real customers either.