What to do with negative responses

by Andrew Wallace
6 min read

Negative feedback is a good thing. That may sound contradictory, but it’s the best way to learn and improve.

By handling negative feedback expeditiously, you increase customer retention, decrease churn, and become a business that everybody wants to work with. 

In this guide, we’re going to show you how to act on negative Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) feedback within the SmileBack platform.

Table of contents  

  • How to act on negative feedback to reduce churn
  • How to leverage negative feedback to improve processes
  • Do not avoid negative feedback: Tips on how to encourage this valuable asset 

How to act on negative feedback to reduce churn

When negative feedback comes in, you should have a strategic process in place to handle it. This way, the customer will feel valued and you’ll have a chance to dig deeper and uncover the reason behind their negative experience. 

Here are three techniques for acting on negative feedback:

Respond immediately

When you respond immediately, you are effectively communicating that you care about your customers. If you take too long to respond, the opposite could be perceived as true—whether or not that’s the case.

To make sure you stay on top of negative feedback, set up an MS Teams or Slack Integration so that you get notified immediately. Even better, set up a dedicated feedback channel for this specific purpose:

Monitoring feedback is key, but what do you do once it comes in? We recommend the following:

  • Open an internal discussion: The agent that was working on the ticket should immediately comment on the notification to give a factual account of what happened. This helps to get everybody up to speed and set the context.
  • Escalate to a designated team member: A designated person should step in and ask follow up questions to the agent, need be. Their primary goals are to a) understand what happened and b) figure out what could have been done better or differently. 
  • Reach out to the customer: Within two hours, this team member should send a message to the customer to let them know they’ve received and value their feedback. If there’s a quick resolution, share it now. If not, mention that you’re working behind the scenes and the issue will be resolved in X timeframe. The more specific, the better, but be careful not to set unrealistic expectations. 
  • Create an issue: Create an internal issue in your designated platform so it’s on your agenda to discuss at the next customer support meeting. At the meeting, you should talk about what happened and what could have been done better. (We’ll share more advice on how to run this meeting in a later section.)

Here’s an example of what an issue could look like (this is in Zendesk):

Set a follow up reminder 

In the case that you don’t have an immediate resolution, set a follow up reminder so you don’t forget to keep your client in the loop. The follow-up timeframe will vary depending on the type of issue and if you have a specific resolution date in mind. 

For example, at SmileBack, we had consistently received negative NPS feedback from customers who were disappointed we didn’t offer two-factor authentication. It was on our roadmap and we responded to each negative review letting them know to expect the update in X timeframe.

Top Tip: For specific guidance (and templates) on how to respond to negative NPS reviews, read our guide to How to Act on NPS Data to Reduce Churn.

Each time a review about two-factor authentication came in, we added the customer’s name to a topic-specific follow up list. The moment we released this feature update, we sent the entire list an email letting them know that it was now available. We also included it in our newsletter, but the personal 1-on-1 follow-up with customers that specifically complained showed we remembered, and cared.

Here’s how you can send a similar email:

  • Craft a subject line that explicitly states that you acted on feedback and what you did
  • Include an explanation of the change, and reference the fact that the reader had asked for it
  • Add supplemental links to more information

Here’s what our two-factor authentication email follow up looked like:

Create a churn risk tracker

A churn risk tracker helps you keep track of customers that have left you negative feedback and thus may churn. Collating this information in a table helps you:

  • Stay organized so you can stay ahead of churn
  • Easily access their contact details when it’s time to reach back out
  • Track if they’ve left multiple rounds of negative feedback and are at a higher risk of churn, so you can further prioritize outreach

Include the following information in your churn risk tracker table:

  • Contact: Your client’s email address
  • Date added: The date they were added to the churn tracker
  • Owner: The person on your team responsible for this client
  • Check back date: The date you are meant to follow up
  • Contacted date: The date you actually did follow up
  • Status: Your communication status (e.g. Pending response, Response sent, Waiting on reply)
  • Trigger: What action caused them to end up on the churn tracker (e.g. Negative review)
  • Notes: Important information about the issue

Here’s an example of what this could look like:

We recommend that you update your churn risk tracker at the start of each week. Add new additions that meet the criteria and remove any that have been deescalated. 

For new additions, set the follow up date for two weeks from the day they are added. If you use a CRM, enroll them in your email sequences and set automated follow up emails in motion. 

Top Tip: For email templates on how to reply to negative NPS feedback, see our guide to How to Act on NPS Data to Reduce Churn.

How to leverage negative feedback to improve processes

Beyond understanding the customer-facing techniques for handling negative responses, you also need a process in place for internal communications. Here are three tips.

Immediately discuss what happened (and why)

This exercise is not about blaming team members for what went wrong. It’s about understanding what could have been done better so that the agent can learn for next time and the rest of the team can take preventative measures to avoid making similar mistakes. 

This conversation should not happen in front of the entire team. Rather, it should take place between the agent involved in the issue and the manager.

In a 1-on-1 setting, discuss the following:

  • What happened
  • Why do you think it happened 
  • When you suggested X, why did you choose that solution and do you think it was the right way to handle it?
  • What do you think could have been done differently to have avoided this outcome (if anything)?
  • What do we need to change in our process, tools, training, workflow, etc. to avoid a similar outcome in the future (if anything)?

The answers to these questions will help your team uncover any operational, strategic, personnel, or technological gaps that need to be filled, tweaked, or optimized. 

Run a weekly retrospective 

This is where you should discuss any issues that were created as a result of negative feedback. (We referenced this above in the “Create an issue” part of the “Respond immediately” section). 

Here is where you have an opportunity to discuss what happened and what could have been done better. Make sure this conversation ends with actionable takeaways.

For example, if this is becoming a common issue (e.g. you’ve heard the same complaint more than a few times from several customers), you may want to add guidance to your Help Center or Support pages. 

If it’s a process issue, you may want to optimize your workflows and improve your training so that everybody is on the same page. 

Going back to the two-factor authentication example, after we announced the new feature we received some negative feedback pointing to log in issues. In response, we created a Help Center article with instructions on how to troubleshoot the issue.

Whatever the outcome, make sure you leave this meeting with a plan for improvement.

Hold monthly learnings

Monthly learnings are a zoomed out version of the weekly retrospective. Rather than dissect every specific issue to formulate actionable takeaways, look at everything you’ve learned from the past month as themes. 

For example, these themes could be: “communication”, “timeliness”, and “accuracy”. Organizing issues into themes helps you to look at larger areas that the whole company needs to work on. 

You can do this directly on your SmileBack dashboard for CSAT reviews by adding tags. Navigate to “Reviews” and then click on a specific response:

The ticket will expand, and you can add a tag by clicking the “Edit tags” field:

This helps you stay organized and makes it easy to refer back during your monthly learnings.

Once tagged in your dashboard, you should create a monthly learnings report in presentation format so the information is easily digestible: 

Click here to download this report template and use it yourself.

In the above example, the theme is “Communication” and the learning is: “We should have checked one more time with the client if the issue was fully resolved. Always double check before closing a ticket.”

This learning is an example of a process and communication breakdown that can be easily rectified. Sometimes, it’s the smallest parts of your workflow that can cause the biggest issues. A simple reminder to double check before closing a ticket can make the difference between satisfaction and churn.

Embrace, don’t avoid, negative feedback

Negative feedback is a gold mine. The last thing you want to do is avoid it, or attempt to restrict it unless it has a comment. If somebody takes the time to send you any negative feedback (with or without comment), it’s an opportunity to learn. 

Follow the tips in this guide to respond to negative feedback and learn from it. 

Want to talk to a member of our team about responding to negative feedback?

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