How small businesses can make the most out of negative feedback

Getting negative feedback from your customers can be devastating. Despite your hard work, things didn't go according to plan. However, a bad review doesn't have to be the end for your company. In fact, it can strengthen your business if you're savvy. As Henry Ford once said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." With that in mind, here's how to leverage criticism into momentum to drive your business forward:

Standardize company practices
Feedback often shines light on issues you may not have known were a problem. While most comments could be regarding a one-time blunder, repeats let you know what your company should change. For instance, employees may have failed to follow a company policy on multiple occasions. This calls attention to a need to train staff on your business practices. Identify the most commonly occurring complaints and design training programs or policy briefs around that. Then, you'll prevent the same issues from happening in the future.

Consider making changes
In addition to reinforcing practices that might have slipped, negative feedback gives you a chance to totally change an aspect of your business. If clients repeatedly complain about your odd business hours, it might be time to re-examine your schedule. Even little changes like that can go a long way toward fostering loyalty. What's more, it shows your customers you listen to them.

Show off your customer service
It can be tempting to ignore negative comments, but you'll portray your business in better light if you tackle them head on. Of course, how you respond is important. Start by validating the customer's concerns with phrases like "Yes, that is a problem" or "That doesn't meet our standards." Then, offer a solution. That could mean letting the customer know you'll change a procedure or offering a replacement for the product or service.

Finally, end by saying "Thank you." Let the customer know his or her feedback is appreciated, as it helps you improve your business. By being calm, understanding, helpful and grateful, you'll show others that your company is intent on being the best it can be – and that encourages customer loyalty.

What's more, responding to frustrated individuals may help you retain their patronage.

Personalize your repairs
If you have to replace a broken product or redo services as a result of a mistake, thank your customer for his or her patience. Add personalized business greeting cards to anything you ship thanking this person for the second chance. You can treat the card much like you would a response to an online review – use the same validation-solution-gratitude format. This time, you'll just be writing a letter by hand to show you personally took care of the issue.

Follow up with the customer in a few weeks to make sure your solution worked out.

Look at feedback differently
As you can see from the previous tips, every complaint is a chance to show customers how great your brand is. Mistakes let you respond in a way that impresses people and make changes that improve your business practices. With that in mind, start looking at complaints as a glass-half-full event. Doing this will help you mobilize faster, assist customers better and maintain a positive work environment despite negative comments.