For all the good that social media has facilitated — the rapid disbursement of information, connecting strangers all over the world, and sharing our day-to-day lives with family and friends — it has also enabled the unrestricted sharing of opinions.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But for business owners, continually receiving opinions on social media platforms can feel overwhelming: Just what should be done with all this feedback? Is it all valuable, or is some of it just a waste of time?
While it can be tempting to warmly accept the good feedback and label any dissonance as useless feedback from “trolls” or “haters,” the wise company will learn how to objectively listen to the negative feedback, too. Business owners need to formulate a strategy for soliciting, hearing and utilizing useful feedback. That’s what we call discernment.
Discernment is a criminally underused tool of business owners. We often forget that the one person who knows the most about a company’s vision, mission, budget, team capacity, goals, strengths, weaknesses, projects and growth potential is not the random person who wandered into the store — but the owner of the business. You, as the owner, are the most capable of knowing what your business should be doing, from name changes and ad campaigns to pricing and product stocking.
So, here are three steps for effectively discerning the valuable feedback from the useless stuff.
Step 1: Filter
The first challenge of continual feedback is to corral it in a consistent location. It’s nearly impossible to channel all the comments you receive via various platforms into one inbox where you can deal with it privately; instead you will need to regularly monitor public forums. (Trying to insist an upset customer on Yelp “email your complaints” just won’t work.)
When you receive feedback, treat it like you would a testimonial — copy or take a screenshot and collect everything for further review. If the original feedback is deleted or changed, you also have a record.
Action Step: Decide who from your team will review your Google business listing, Facebook page, Yelp profile, social media inboxes and other public-facing sites for new comments on a regular basis. The frequency needed will depend on your business; if you receive new comments daily, then you’ll need to review more often than the business that gets a couple of comments each month. With a set of standard answers for both positive and negative feedback, this team member can respond most of the time, and escalate those tricky or difficult-to-answer questions to a supervisor.
Step 2: Reply
In some cases, a reply is simple, especially if the customer is confused about simple facts, such as your working hours or how refunds work. There’s a subset of people called the perpetually aggrieved who will always be upset and all you can do is respond politely because even if they’ll never be happy, others are watching your interaction.
Even if you don’t have a solution to the complaint, or know how the business will address the concern, it’s always best to reply. Upset customers become more frustrated when they assume they’re being ignored and reasonable folks will appreciate your earnest response.
Assure your frustrated commenter that you hear their words and will take action with a simple message, such as: Thank you for sharing this feedback, we really care about your experience and take these concerns seriously. I will share your comments with our team and we’ll be making some decisions with their input moving forward.
Action Step: Create a few standard replies for your team to use when dealing with complaints, but make sure they’re easy to adapt to various situations.
Step 3: Act
Of course, once you tell someone you’ll review their feedback, you should do so. But keep in mind that the entire goal of gathering feedback is not to follow every suggestion you hear, but to apply your discernment and wisdom to the situation. As the owner, you can decide if you want to hear every comment or trust your team to pass along the useful and thoughtful suggestions — it may take some experience before your staff recognizes which comments are worthy of consideration and which ones are not.
Action Step: As you discern which suggestions you’ll implement, make note of any responses you need to send to clients, either publicly or privately. Making a change is secondary to communicating your intention and reaffirming your company values, so responses should be thoughtful and polite no matter what you decide to do.
Let’s consider two examples of companies who received feedback on their business name and how each used discernment in their response.
Recently, some groups were unhappy with the name of the Canadian ice creamery Sweet Jesus and demanded a name change. When the company announced its expansion into the U.S., critics began an online petition asking the company to “issue a public apology for misusing the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ” and “change the name and branding of your franchise.”
The company responded to the feedback: “Sweet Jesus is an honest reflection of our experiences and that of our customers, and how they react when they try our product. In our experience, the majority of people understand that we’re not trying to make a statement about religion.”
When you make a decision in discernment, not everyone will agree and weighing who will be unhappy is a small part of the equation. While a few thousand people may continue to boycott the creamery, in the face of changing the well-known brand, online presence and everything from signs to napkins at 19 retail locations, the company’s cofounder announced, “After a lot of thought, we have decided that we will not make a change.”
When email marketing company Convert Kit announced it was changing its name to “Seva” the response from users, affiliates and the community was confusion, then backlash. The name, which has cultural and religious implications and is translated from “sacred service” in Sikh scripture, was maybe an odd choice for a company that helps businesses sell. The company realized, “Within a few days, we started to hear from many of you who had genuine concerns about the name and its deep connection to religion and culture for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and more.”
After engaging in conversations, the company ultimately decided to forgo the name change and issued an apology. In this case, Convert Kit is a prime example of a company that took in feedback, reconsidered their decision and reversed course.
Your own experience will vary and it’s the sign of a mature and wise owner that evaluates their decisions against the longevity of the business, takes feedback from stakeholders and uses discernment before reacting. There are some battles which you may not want to fight, realizing, like Convert Kit, that you made the wrong move and adjust accordingly. Other requests and petitions would demand too much compromise and you’ll say no like Sweet Jesus, even if it means losing some business. Either way, let discernment — not the roar of the opinionated crowd — be your guiding light.