Two women and one man working together on a better customer experience.

5 Ways Your Support and Marketing Teams Can Work Together For a Better Customer Experience

Two women and one man working together on a better customer experience.

Better customer experience is a key growth advantage. In order to retain the customers you’ve worked so hard to acquire, you have to deliver.

With great power, comes great responsibility. Whether you want to attribute that quote to Voltaire or Peter Parker’s uncle in Spiderman, it’s true for anyone delivering customer support or working directly with customers.

Step 1 to building any product, agency, service, marketplace, etc., you need customers. You wouldn’t be able to offer a product or service without them. The people on your team who interact day-to-day with your customers can’t be placed in a silo where their only responsibility is to hit reply and send on customer queries. If this sounds like your customer support team now, you’re going to lose these customers.

A man and a woman sitting in front of a laptop.

A Marketing and Support partnership is incredibly powerful for a number of reasons. Below, we have a few detailed out with support from Kevan Lee, the Director of Marketing at Buffer and Dani Arnold, the former Director of Support at OpenTable.

#1: Support Should Inform Content Strategy

“In terms of partnership and influence, there are a couple ways where we’ve experienced a really great connection between marketing and support. The first is with knowledge share. For us, this comes in many forms, perhaps the most common is support informing the types of content we write about. We want to write content that solves problems for users, and our support team knows those problems better than anyone.” 

— Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer

You support team is inundated on a daily basis with questions from customers. Use this to your advantage by implementing process for your support team to share these questions with your marketing team. This will make for the best content because your customer team has already validated that your customers are on the search for it. Creating useful information for your customers is a great experience but it also helps with organic search rankings if your customers are already searching for this information.

Trello is a great resource where your marketing and support teams can create a shared board and track the questions coming in. For example, Buffer is a tool that allows you to schedule social media posts across multiple networks with one click. Imagine the support team kept getting the question ‘How often should I post?’ alongside questions about setting up the schedule. By creating a card in Trello and tracking the number of times this question comes up and linking to the customer support email, the marketing and content team could then use this as a resource once they start writing.

#2: Collaborate on Creating and Updating Customer Personas

Both the marketing and customer support team can benefit from building customer personas. Both teams gather data and feedback from customers and can build profiles that help the company define its audience. Where the marketing team is likely to lean on data and analytics from tools like Google Analytics and Facebook Ads, the customer support team can supplement these customer data points with qualitative information — they can put a voice to the numbers.

A chart with five people and a progress bar next to each.

At Tuff, when we start working with a new client to help them with customer acquisition, our first step is to do a deep dive into their support channels and communication to learn more about their current customers. What is the first question someone asks in live chat? What words do they use to describe their problems? How technologically advanced are they? These questions are important and your support team has all the information you need to answer these questions.

When you create customer personas, you can’t just share it once and set it aside. To continue using it as a resource, work the language into your meetings and conversations. A customer persona is represented by one person, say “Sally” to represent a larger customer base. When your customer support team is starting to get an influx of questions from “Sally” customers, they can let the marketing team know which then will let them better target “Sally”.

#3: Share Responsibility of Social Media Channels

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“The second way to partner is with shared responsibilities. At Buffer, marketing and support share a social media engagement inbox; marketing gains a ton from the interactions that the support team has on social media posts, blog content, etc., and we’re able to form connections around a common part of both our jobs.”

 — Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer

Using social media as a two way street, rather than a megaphone, can improve customer retention. A natural part of your marketing teams content strategy is going to be sharing that content on social media. You can’t just put your content out there and walk away, you need to be there to engage and discuss any questions or thoughts. Your content and social strategy will get better when you’re listening to qualitative the reactions people have to them rather than just ‘clicks’, ‘likes’, ‘shares’, etc.

By sharing social media responsibilities and regularly discussing this strategy, your support team can inform your marketing team on the reactions certain content is getting as well as provide feedback on how to improve.

#4: Supercharge Your Sales Cycle With Quick Feedback

“It’s really about shifting from “the cost center” to being seen as a partner. [Our support team] started reporting on other teams’ impact on our volume internally to help us with forecasting. But when we started to notice trends in regions, or specific sales reps or products, we decided to expand that reporting, we offered suggestions based on what we heard from the customers directly. This bloomed into quarterly feedback sessions, and the more facetime my team had with other areas of the company, it became easier to have them included and thought of as projects were developing rather than afterthoughts and na-sayers.” 

— Dani Arnold, former Director of Support at OpenTable

Once you’ve gained a new customer, moving forward, the majority of their interactions with your team are going to be with the customer support or success team. Depending on how your company acquires customers, their first questions as a new customer are a huge opportunity. If they talked to a sales agent on the phone, what questions went unanswered? If they signed up from a Facebook ad, what made them click? What is the problem your product or service is helping them solve?

Having your marketing and support teams working closely together, brings these questions to top of mind. If your support team is aware of the marketing teams goals, they can bring this into their work and how they communicate and learn from customers.

#5: Work Together on New Product or Feature Releases

The support team is there to do just that, support. It’s their job to be prepared for an influx of customer questions, remain flexible, and support customers.

At the same time, you can be strategic with when your marketing team releases a big announcement or launches a new feature or product. Maybe your support team is typically at full capacity on Thursday mornings. Depending on their weekend coverage, Monday morning might be better than Friday afternoon.

A man spinning connected gears

Whoever is managing any announcement to your customers from the marketing team, needs to include meeting with the support manager a number of times in the process. While timing of the announcement is a helpful to partner on, there are also a number of other areas to cover: what language do customer typically use when talking about this? What other questions might come up from announcing this that we can answer pro-actively, etc. It will also let your support team do some work in advance and have answer to expected questions already written up and ready to go. This is a great way to wow your customers.

Over to you…

Consistency when interacting with a company is a great way to promote an exceptional customer experience. By breaking down silos between teams and encouraging close collaboration, you’ll get this. If this isn’t happening already, have a member of your marketing and support team meet on a bi-weekly basis and start practicing these 5 tactics.

How does your marketing and customer support team work together? What’d we miss?

If you’d like to apply these steps to your team but need a more formal game plan, join Tuff for a free 30-minute growth strategy session.

Six marketing professionals talking to each other to develop a growth plan.

How We Learned From 1,000 Customers in One Afternoon

Customer research at scale is hard.

When you hear phrases like ‘big data’ or ‘quantifiable data’, it can feel paralyzing to know where to start.

I can almost instantaneously feel my eyebrows furrowing and my brain pleading for coffee when I try to keep up with the latest marketing trend or ‘best practice’.

There’s so much out there, it’s often hard to know where to start. As a business owner you might feel a lot of pressure to continue coming up with creative ways to connect with and reach your audience. Or, there might be some technical skills that are better to hire an in-house marketer or agency to take on.

However, there’s one fundamental marketing skill we’re taught from pretty much day one of our lives ― listening.

When you’re eager to share your message and product value, this can be easier said than done. But, when it comes to good listening it’s not about what you are saying. At Tuff, we start every client relationship with customer segmentation.

We recently went through this activity with a client. The Buy Guys, a Florida-based home buyer and seller that has purchased over 10,000 homes in the last 10 years, came to us to help increase quality leads that convert. By updating their website and digital marketing strategy, leads are up by 138% this year. And, the cost per lead has decreased by 36.92%.

Our first and most critical step? Customer segmentation.

Why Customer Segmentation?

Customer segmentation is really a fancy way of saying: ‘who are your customers? And, what do they want?’.

You have to know who your target audience is, what their problems are, and how they want to interact with you. Having these questions explicitly answered will allow you to build a much stronger marketing strategy based on both qualitative and quantitative data.

In the above section, you may have noticed that instead of saying The Buy Guys came to us to ‘help increase leads’ it was ‘to help quality leads that convert’. That distinction is important because it’s worth your time to get to know your customers so you can tailor your digital marketing strategy to convert the type of leads you know you want.

This requires being intentional before you start into executing on tactics but it will help you achieve much better results on those tactics. The good news is, if you take the time to look for it, your customers are generally already answering these questions for you.

You just have to know where to look.

Your sales and support team members (maybe it’s even you doing all of it) and the tools they use, are the best places to start.

Customer Segmentation in action

If your team is already engaging with customer and clients over the phone, this is an awesome place to start. You can gather both qualitative and quantitative information and the power of hearing your customer’s voice and the tone they use, is unmatched.

To start to get to know the audience interacting with The Buy Guys better, we took both a qualitative and quantitative approach using CallRail, a call tracking software the team had been using to log sales calls.

Qualitative Approach

The qualitative approach was listening to 100 phone calls in CallRail, taking detailed notes and listening for things like what kind of words is the customer using?, what was the very first problem they explained over the phone?, what were they hearing, thinking, feeling, saying?

For this step, you can use a Google Doc or your note taking tool of choice. Here’s the format we like to use, it’s best to keep it simple and focus on listening:

Caller name:
First Question:
Notable quotes:
Goal:
Wait till the phone call is over to add in their goal, it can sometimes take the whole call to assess. Here’s an example from The Buy Guys (with the name changed for privacy):

Caller name: Harry Potter
First Question: How does the process work for selling?
Notable quotes: “I had a realtor, they weren’t doing anything to make progress so I took over.”
Goal: To sell property quickly
By about the 10th phone call you listen to, you’ll start to notice a few trends in the customers’ goals. This is where you can start to segment the customers.

Create sections in your notes with the headline being the different goals (i.e. To sell property quickly’). Try to keep this to under 5 different goals. There will be outliers and the occasional customer going down a different path but you should be able to start segmenting customers into groups. When you get to the ‘Goal’ section of your note for each call, copy and paste the whole entry under the goal section it best aligns with.

In doing this, you now have different customer segments with the powerful supporting data of quotes and first questions.

Quantitative Approach

The quantitative approach using CallRail was to export data from over 1,000 calls to see larger trends such as time of day people are calling, what page the visited before calling, where are they calling from. Any call tracking software should allow you to export a CSV full of super helpful data.

Your call tracking software should also offer an analytics section to learn more about the behavior of the callers. In CallRail, we found two charts especially handy in understanding more about The Buy Guys customers:

These charts provide insights into what time of day callers have the most time. It can help create ideas around what kind of jobs they have, when they are most available, and are they more likely to engage on the weekends or during the week? This is where we can explore some of that customer research at scale.

For The Buy Guys, we were focusing on building a new website to capture more leads. By taking the time to dive into CallRail and gather qualitative and quantitative data about their customers, we were able to build customer personas. Using these customer personas, we were then able to use a shared language to talk with their team and our UX designer about the behaviors, motives, and ideas of the target audience.

Where else to look?

The Buy Guys had a wealth of data in CallRail but not every business uses the phone for sales or there might not be enough data there yet to be meaningful. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

There are a number of other places where your customers are letting you know what they need and want from you:

Email conversations: you can go through a similar process by reading through support emails and tagging them with the ‘goal’.

Ask your sales and support teams: There’s a good chance your sales and support team members can give you a list of ten things your customers need and want, off the top of their head. And, the types of words they use and questions they ask.

Online Reviews: This is especially helpful for SaaS companies where review sites are aplenty. If you have an app in the Apple Store, have you read all reviews there? If you have a physical product, what about Amazon? Have people been talking about your service on Quora?

Twitter: Hop on over to TweetDeck (make sure you’re logged into your business Twitter) and set up your account to monitor for certain keywords. This allows you to find tweets that don’t tag your account and could easily slip by.

Over to you…

With The Buy Guys, we had a specific project where it made sense to start with customer segmentation. But, it should be an ongoing process. If you’re happy with your website, you can try customer segmentation to better inform copywriting for your paid ads.

How do you learn more about what your customers want and need? What does customer research at scale look like to you?

A pink, red, and blue heart

11 Customer Retention Strategies You Can Implement Today

A pink, red, and blue heart.

What is customer retention and why should I care? Most people are familiar with the leaky bucket metaphor.

You have your trusty bucket that you’re rapidly filling with a hose. Things are going well, the bucket is filling up with water, until you start to notice the water is staying at the same level.

Then, all of a sudden, you’re losing water. Upon inspection, there are holes in the bottom and sides of the bucket. You might try to plug one of the holes with your finger, or, wrap a rag around the bucket but no matter what you do, the water escapes.

This is customer retention.

Or, rather, the relationship between marketing and customer retention gone wrong. Too often, companies are more concerned with acquiring customers and rapidly filling the bucket that they overlook what happens when a prospect becomes a customer. It’s the responsibility of everyone at the company to complement acquisition with retention.

To go further than metaphors, Bain & Company has found that “a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%”.

In the following section, we’ll share proven strategies we’ve utilized at Tuff and in past positions to increase customer retention and earn the right to growth.

Three men sitting on a couch watching a sports game.

How to improve customer retention

1. Know your target customer like the back of your hand

When you’re working day and night on a product or have your website imprinted on your brain, it can be easy to slip into subjective decisions and designs. You might prefer a certain font or color scheme and think it’s the right choice because it looks better to you. Sometimes, if your customer base is similar to yourself, this can work out okay. However, it’s a big risk.

It’s incredibly important to understand your customer(s) and the job they’re looking to have done. There is an unconscious bias called implicit egotism that explains a tendency of people to prefer things where they have a self-association. For example, if you have testimonials on your website, it’s important the people you have selected to highlight resemble your ideal customers. In order to do this, you need to take the time to identify your target customer and craft an experience tailored to them.

2. Explicitly communicate how you solve their problem

Buffer: “Fully manage all of your social media accounts in one place. No more wasting time, no more logging into multiple social accounts.” 

Evernote: “Organize your work and declutter your life. Collect everything that matters in one place and find it when you need it, fast.”

Mailchimp: “Give your customers a clear call to action. With MailChimp, you can create beautiful landing pages that make it easy for people to buy your products or join your list.” 

These three companies are leaders in their respective industries. Visiting their home pages, you can quickly scan and find these statements. In all three instances, they’re explicitly speaking to the problem a potential customer might have. With Buffer ‘no more wasting time’, with Evernote ‘declutter your life’, and with Mailchimp ‘make it easy for people to buy your products’. 

Our friends over at Buffer have written more on this in a post called ‘People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves’

3. Education > Sales

A man and a woman working together on a laptop.

Your success is tied to your customer’s success. A relevant business metric here is Lifetime Value (LTV). The deeper a customer’s work depends on your service or product, the less likely they are to leave you. There’s a saying that ‘you shouldn’t celebrate a product update, celebrate adoption’. And this, really, comes down to communication and education. Do you have targeted in-app messages? What is your onboarding email series like? When is the last time you ran a survey to learn more about your customer’s needs?

4. Prioritize reducing friction over quick customer support

Education and LTV are much easier when you are building and improving a product to increase the core value to your customers. There are a number of companies that have had success through ‘surprise and delight’ gestures. These tend to get more coverage on blogs and in the news and can have a more viral tendency. According to research from Dixon, Toman, and DeLisi published in The Effortless Experience, the true driver of customer retention and loyalty is the ease of getting a problem solved. Is it extremely clear how a customer can get in touch with your support team? Are you letting them pick the support channel that works best for them or forcing them into a channel you’ve decided is best? 

5. Throw out the traditional support metrics

As a support lead, it can be really tempting to dedicate more time and energy to tracking and optimizing support metrics like response time, happiness score, etc. These are, of course, helpful to know but long term your customers want a product that works well and solves their problem. The traditional support metrics are more straightforward and depending on the culture of your team you may be receiving pressure to focus on them. But, you’ll have a larger impact, ideally reduce the volume of incoming support queries, and help create a product people need and want by focusing your energy on a solid customer <> product team relationship. This is key to great customer retention.

If you don’t have a process for tracking customer feedback and sharing it with your product team, stop reading this article right now and start building it. Open up Trello and create three columns for: ‘bug report’, ‘product feedback’ and ‘product confusion’. Add a new card to the ‘bug report’ column when there is a repeatable issue with your website, a new card under ‘product feedback’ when a customer writes in with explicit feedback or a feature request, and a new card under ‘product confusion’ when you get the ‘how do I…?’ questions. 

Empower your support agents to prioritize asking an extra question to learn more about your customer’s needs rather than focusing on response time.

6. But, still focus on great customer support

It might be a little extreme of us to suggest throwing out traditional support metrics. They have a place and are helpful information but they can’t be your north star. One actionable strategy we’ve seen have a huge impact on retention is related to tracking customer feedback. When you are tracking customer feedback in one location, you have an automatic checklist of customers to follow up with when your team has acted on their feedback. The customer took their time to explicitly let you know how your team could improve, send them a personalized email to let them know you heard them. When a customer feels heard, they’ll stick by you through anything.  

Bonus tip: Help Scout makes tracking feedback and following up super easy with their workflows

7. Test a chatbot

There’s never going to be a future where Artificial Intelligence totally takes over because humans and chatbots are good at different things. Leaning on our strengths and the strengths of chatbots can make for a powerful team. When a chatbot pilot program was initiated in a telco company, it could handle 82% of common queries in customer service. After 5 weeks of tweaking, analyzing, and optimizing by human agents, its success increased to 88%, according to Accenture. Chatbots can help you offer 24/7 support while also freeing up your support agents to handle the more emotionally-driven and empathy-requiring conversations. 

We’ve written more about how to run a chatbot experiment here

8. Use social as a two-way street

A woman with a watering can pouring water on plants.

Your social media channels need to be more than a megaphone, amplifying your own message. Think about that person you know who is constantly talking about themselves, forgetting to ask about you or how your day was. Your customers want to be heard. Topo Designs, an outdoor apparel company, has someone on their team whose responsibility is to respond to comments and mentions on Instagram. All day long. The ROI might be a little harder to prove but this is how you build  loyal customers and advocates. 

9. Set customer-centric goals

It’s important to set goals and it’s even more important to keep them aligned with serving your customers. 

For example, your digital marketing team might be running a few Pay-Per-Click campaigns. It can be easy to fall into the trap of measuring success based on the number of clicks. And while clicks are really important, converted clicks are even more important. It means you’re helping the customer find the thing that solves their problem. 

Set all goals to rely on the customer’s success. 

10. Be intentional about how you speak about customers

This strategy takes more than one day, it’s a cultural adjustment. But, one you can immediately address and speak up agains. The way you speak about your customers is going to have an effect on how you treat them and how your company as a whole supports them. Do you hear people around your office talking about ‘that dumb customer’ or how they had to ‘deal’ with someone? You wouldn’t be in business without your customers. Even if it’s subconscious, speaking about your customers with anything but gratitude and respect will carry over to your teams interactions with them and how your team prioritizes customer needs. 

11. Marketing + Customer Support = BFF4L

A man turning gears with pictures of people on them.

This strategy here is really the big kahuna. All of the previous 10 strategies will be easier to implement when you de-silo your teams and make it easy for them to collaborate on behalf of the customer. 

Your marketing team is at the top of the bucket, filling it with water (customers). Your customer support team is inspecting the holes (reasons a customer is leaving).

While holes may be inevitable, they will get filled much quicker and better when these two teams work together. Empower the teams to work together through embedding a customer team member in marketing meetings, have your marketing team deliver support for an hour each week, no matter how you do it provide positive affirmation about the collaboration. 

At Tuff, we partner on both acquisition and retention strategy and implementation because we want to offer a damn good, leak-free bucket.

Free Growth Strategy Session

What strategies have you tried? Where have you had success or failures? We’re also always available to talk through ideas and implement an experiment tailored to your team and goals. Check out a Free Growth Strategy Session with Tuff.

Illustration of a woman holding a cellphone

5 Characteristics of a Customer Focused CEO

Graphic illustration of a woman holding a cellphone

 

CEOs have a lot of responsibility. From building and growing teams, developing a product, making sure you have enough funding or profit for payroll, helping team members learn and develop, and more, it’s not the glamorized and jet-setting role you might see in movies.

Often with startups and small businesses, the CEO is the very first customer support hire. When you’re validating your idea and just getting started, you’re the one responding to customer emails and picking up the phone. As your company grows, it makes sense to fire yourself from this role and hire someone who can do it even better — but you can’t lose touch.

Through our time working and leading customer support teams and working with clients around the world, we’ve identified 5 characteristics of a customer-focused CEO. Do you practice these?:

  • Views customer support as an opportunity to maximize, not a cost to minimize
  • ✅ Empowers teams to collaborate on behalf of customers
  • ✅ Takes the time to engage with customers
  • ✅ Communicates short term and long term vision
  • ✅ Guides employees and decisions using team values

Below, we’ve taken examples from two different CEOs demonstrating each characteristic on social media, in blog posts, through organizational decisions, and more. We hope it’s helpful to see these in action!

Views customer support as an opportunity to maximize, not a cost to minimize

Example #1

Buffer is a software that offers a number of tools to manage social media. They’re also known for their transparency and progressive culture. In a recent blog post, ‘The Next Evolution of Transparent Salaries: Our New Remote-First Formula and Updated Salary Calculator’ they address their salary formula. Deciding the average salaries for Advocacy (support) team members is below what they think it should be, Buffer added a role multiplier to their salary formula to address this. By offering a higher salary for the work of the Advocacy team members they quite explicitly let the team know that the work of these team members is more than just replying to a queue of emails. Here’s an excerpt from that blog post:

A screenshot from a blog post by Buffer explaining their salary formula.

Example #2

Katrina Lake, the CEO of Stitch Fix takes to Twitter to recognize their client experience and stylist teams. By publicly celebrating the work these teams are doing, she reinforces their importance and value to the larger team.Screenshot of a tweet by Katrina Lake
Empowers teams to collaborate on behalf of customers

Example #1

It takes an intentional effort to combat silos that easily creep into growing teams. In a recent study, Walker identified companies that recently experienced double-digit growth and compared their CEOs to those at companies with little or no growth. One of the characteristics they identified in their study of over 550 CEOs is ‘coordinates across silos’. Mailchimp has bridged the gap between their support teams and product teams with the roles of technical advisors and support product analysts:


Example #2

Nick Francis is the CEO of Help Scout, a team building great customer support software and providing quality education and information on customer service. In this tweet, he’s recognizing the work done between multiple teams – marketing, customer support, product, designers. By celebrating their collaboration publicly, he reinforces the importance of cross-collaboration:

Takes the time to engage with customers

Example #1

Sallie Krawcheck is the CEO of Ellevest, an investment platform created specifically for women. In this example, she’s taken the time to respond to a question she received from an audience member. By taking the time to respond to Anna and answer her question, she demonstrates to her team the importance of engaging with customers and community members as well as shows future customers she’s dedicated to them:

Example #2

Brian Armstrong is the CEO of Coinbase, a platform you can use to buy and sell digital currency (bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin). He shared this tweet with a video of him answering customer support calls. We love this example because not only does he share with Twitter that he’s spent time answering calls, he gives us a deeper look with this video and we get to hear how he interacts with customers:

Communicates short term and long term vision

Example #1

Alyssa Ravasio is the CEO of Hipcamp, a marketplace for landowners to list their land and generate revenue by helping people get outside and book their sites to camp overnight. Every year Alyssa shares a blog post on the Hipcamp Journal sharing her vision for the year. She could only share this internally but by making it public there’s an extra level of commitment to all stakeholders and customers. Here is an excerpt of Alyssa sharing some of what is ahead for Hipcamp in 2018:

Example #2

Here we have another example from Katrina Lake. By taking the time to share that Stich Fix made the decision to go public and that it is ‘just the beginning’, she’s explicitly communicated what she believes is ahead for Stich Fix:

Guides employees and decisions using team values

Example #1

Ben Chestnut is the CEO of Mailchimp, the marketing automation platform. This one is quite clear in his own words. Mailchimp shared a blog post detailing some of the times things didn’t quite work out. As Ben says, it reinforces their core value of humility. By using the weight of his leadership and celebrating failure and vulnerability, he sets a powerful example for the rest of the team at Mailchimp:

Example #2

Jason Fried is the CEO of Basecamp, a project management & team communication software. Again, as CEO, his example carries a lot of weight. By publicly writing on this topic and sharing on Twitter, he reaffirms Basecamps culture of autonomy and trust in employees to manage their time and work:

 

Free Growth Strategy Session

What characteristics do you think a customer-focused CEO should have? Customer retention is a key piece of any growth strategy and should be a focus for any CEO scaling a startup. If you care about customer but aren’t sure how to put that into action, we can help. Sign up for a free growth strategy session with Tuff today.

Woman throwing paper plane

Respond To Negative Feedback Online: A Complete Guide

Woman throwing paper airplane

 

Sitting down at the four-person table next to the window, you take a minute to scour the menu. Torn between the fish tacos and margarita pizza, you go with the fish tacos because you’re craving cilantro.

You continue making conversation with your lunch date when the waiter comes out bringing you a cheeseburger. It wasn’t what you expected.

Usually, you can work around a wrong order but you’ve stopped eating red meat. You sit there thinking about whether or not to speak up when the waiter comes to check on you and you say “So sorry, this isn’t what I ordered.” She looks back at you, shrugs her shoulders and walks away.  

Imagine that, a waiter knowing you didn’t get what you expected and ignoring you. This in-person experience happens all the time online. Customers will leave a negative review, tweet about their experience, even email the company directly and it goes unanswered. They’re doing this because their expectations were not met.

As hard at it can sometimes be to address a comment where your company is shown in a negative light, this is a huge positive and opportunity. Knowing what is being said about your company online shows you what to celebrate, what’s going well, as well as how you can improve.

Why respond to negative feedback?

There are three key opportunities when responding to negative reviews and comments online:

  • customer retention
  • free advertising
  • actionable feedback

It’s not enough just to listen though, it’s critical to respond. This reinstills faith in the original customer as well as shows customers following along that you’ll listen to their feedback, creating a feedback loop. We all know that it’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire a new one. By facing negative reviews head-on and graciously resolving outstanding issues, you are helping your bottom line.

Responding to the reviews, tweets, Facebook comments, and more serves as free advertising. Tuff also manages pay-per-click campaigns and the R.O.I on these are a bit easier to prove. But, these responses are important messaging. You have the opportunity to show everyone that your company is professional, that you hold yourself accountable and you care about delivering a great customer experience.

The final opportunity is the most important. When a customer takes the time to leave a review about your company or send a tweet about something they think could have been better, they’re giving you actionable feedback. For the one person speaking up, there are probably many more who had a similar experience and kept it to themselves.

Whether you own a restaurant, offer a service like plumbing or are building an online product, you’re designing the experience for your customers — not for you.

These three factors: customer retention, free advertising, and the opportunity to improve are reason enough. It turns out, though, that negative reviews aren’t inherently a bad thing. Studies have shown they can help instill credibility and trust. Consumers get it, they know people are going to have a bad day or even that their taste is different than Sally who hated the french fries. A company with thousands of only 5-star reviews seems a little shady. Negative reviews might even highlight something positive for the next person.

PowerReviews set out to examine this shift in consumer expectations by surveying more than 800 American consumers. One thing they found is that “82% of shoppers seek out negative reviews; among shoppers under 45 this number jumps to 86%”.

Finally, negative reviews aren’t as common as you might think. While it’s critical to respond to these, it’s not going to take a huge chunk of your time.  In a study about Amazon by Max Woolf he found, on average, products with at least 5 ratings have an average rating of 4.16.

graph of amazon ratings

How to respond to negative feedback

When a customer takes the time to review your service or product, they’re looking for you to give them you E.A.R. This is the formula we teach at Tuff for graciously responding to online criticism.

Empathize: Put yourself in their shoes. What emotion would you be feeling if you were them?

Acknowledge: Specifically, address their comments, match their language and reuse some of their words.

React: The first two pieces are absolutely key. If you’re able to effect change and address their problem, do it.

If you take a look at Yelp, you’ll notice there are a fair few missed opportunities with unanswered negative reviews. To demonstrate E.A.R. in action, we’ve pulled 3 unanswered reviews to show you how we’d respond.

Examples

Screenshot of a Negative Yelp Review

Empathize: Penny, I am so sorry to hear that you and your group had a bad experience when dining with us. I got into this business because of my love for food and I know how disappointing it can be when you are excited to try a certain dish you’ve heard great things about and then it’s no longer on the menu.

Acknowledge: With ramen being off the menu, the fried chicken being solid and hard, and the waiter not offering a dessert menu we definitely could have done better.

React: We rotate our menu depending on seasonal ingredients and will work to make that clearer. I’m also going to check in on the quality of our fried chicken and coating to learn more about what happened to your dishes. Thank you so much for taking the time and if you return to Jackson, I’d love to have you come in and try again!

Screenshot of a negative Yelp review

Empathize: Hey TamarA, oh gosh! I imagine that was quite frustrating, especially since it sounds like you’ve had better experiences in the past.

Acknowledge: We really dropped the ball on your latest visit. I apologize for the patronizing service, we try to hold all employees to the highest standard.

React: As a manager, I take responsibility for the waiter’s actions. It’s my job to make sure they have the proper training and resources to perform their best. Would you be up for giving me a call at XXX-XXX-XXXX? I know we’ve already taken a lot of your time but I’d love to learn more specifically about the service so I can help our staff improve.

Screenshot of a negative Yelp review

Empathize: Hey Doctor L, thanks so much for taking the time to review us. It sounds like we let you down with the food preparation. As a San Francisco resident, I know how crazy prices can be and we should do a better job providing context on the cost of the upgrade and the impacts seasonality have.

Acknowledge: We work really hard to make sure we’re serving the freshest ingredients. I appreciate you going into specifics with the bacon and chives. It can be tricky at times to appeal to all tastes and having details on how you would have preferred the bacon texture and fewer chives is really helpful.

React: I’ll mention these notes to our culinary team and explore with other management team members how we can help clarify the upgrade charge. Thank you!

Summary

You need to make sure you’re replying to online negative feedback about your business. There’s a perception that it can be all-consuming but it is critical for three reasons (among many more): customer retention, free advertising, and actionable feedback.

When met with these comments, remember to approach the conversation graciously and without ego. The person took the time to help your business improve and you should view this as an opportunity.

As you respond, remember E.A.R: empathize, acknowledge, react.

If you’re struggling with how to respond to negative feedback, we hope this guide helps! If you’d like to learn more, talk about customer retention strategies, or go through specific examples of negative feedback, we’re all E.A.R.’s. 

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