How Criticism Can Save Your Small Business
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Mistakes are critical to business growth. We learn the most when we’re faced with trickier problems and customer complaints that force us to get creative. Whether you’re a booming tech leader like Facebook or a local mom-and-pop, your team should always have an ear to the ground, accepting and encouraging feedback from happy and unhappy customers alike.
Below, we share just how customer criticism can transform and save your business.
You hear your customers’ wants first-hand
Maybe you talk to your customers all the time or, as is often the case, just when they’re dissatisfied. While these “negative” conversations can be daunting, they’re far more valuable for than the pleasant ones. Unhappy customers put growth opportunity on a serving platter. They tell you about their issue and often hint (or state outright) the outcome they would have preferred, whether it’s a product improvement, a service offering, better communication or all of the above.
The more you hear this kind of feedback, the clearer your business’ holes become and the closer you are to plugging them. Just remember that many customers never complain. In fact, 96% of them don’t. The majority simply leave. So you have to ask for feedback and work toward building better customers who want to give it, otherwise you won’t hear the good, the bad and the ugly until it’s too late.
You see your business in a new light
You go to work every day and stare at a computer screen, run around helping customers or checking off an endless and ever-growing to-do list. You start to form a routine. After some time, it’s easy to grow so close to the work that you put distance between yourself and your customers. You must make mental edits to your approach, especially if you want to grow business with customer service.
Criticism forces you to take a hard look at outdated and ineffective practices that may be causing trouble in your customer relationships. It gives you a chance to revamp the go-to techniques you use on a daily basis. Maybe your business hours are problematic for customers with full-time jobs, or you’re not offering a service in high demand. Your customers’ feedback can help point out the obvious but overlooked problems that need to be rectified.
Just listening boosts customer retention
Criticism isn’t always fun to hear, but it just might help you save a customer from leaving. When someone raises a complaint, start by empathizing. Let them know that you understand where they’re coming from and you’ll take the initiative to help. Wait for them to finish, then try repeating back what they just said so they know you’re listening.That word is key: listen. Remind yourself that you need to listen, not just hear. Take notes if you want to, and attempt to come up with a solution right then and there or give them a clear, reasonable time that you’ll get back to them. If you offer a solution upfront, your customer is less likely to cut ties. And even if you can’t solve the problem right away, once your customer voices their issue they’ll be more invested in that future solution.
Feedback can ignite action
Criticism can give you that little push you need to make a change. When your employees are constantly hearing similar feedback, that’s when you know it’s time to take action. Meet with your team and determine where the majority of complaints or problems arise and come up with a strategy to fix the issue. Making these feedback sessions a top priority adds credibility in the eyes of your customers and your employees.
That employee bit is key. If you run a business with customer-facing employees, they need to be following your lead and soliciting feedback regularly. Instill an attitude of proactive customer service company-wide and you’ll see a much bigger impact. Your team will begin paying more attention to customers’ needs as well as what’s best for the company.
If companies like Apple and Microsoft disregarded their customers’ feedback, they never would have made it to the top echelons of tech. Their products and services have adapted to changing consumer preferences and needs thanks to constant analysis and action. Though their consumer studies budget probably dwarfs a mid-sized company’s annual revenue, smaller operations can take small measures to start listening that open up a realm of possibilities for growth. Don’t forget that you are where you are because of your loyal customers, so take their criticism as a thank you to your business.