Problems Get More Potent With Age

December 9th, 2013 / Comments Off on Problems Get More Potent With Age

The oft-cited and much debated saying is: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” There are some who believe any press is good press, while others rally against the phrase, claiming it’s not true and using it as unwelcome license to engage in outlandish behavior. (See: Miley Cyrus and twerking)

While I strive to keep my head low and receive positive recognition, I’ve come to realize that getting input—good or bad—is a blessing.  It gives you invaluable information on how you are doing, and more importantly, how you can do it better. Press, even bad press, while it can be uncomfortable, can also be an incredible opportunity for improvement.

So what do you do when you are on the receiving end of critical reviews or negative comments? First of all, congrats—this is validation that people care about what you are doing. It’s confirmation that you have some traction. People who are not engaged don’t talk about you or your products or service.

But there’s no time to enjoy this realization, you must immediately aim to make the situation right. If customers are discussing the issue in print, on the web, on social media, on external sites, or on your site, you must understand that they believe it is important, and you should listen.

When you get this heat, you have to lean in to the fire and respond immediately. That is the best way to put it out:

-Do not act defensively.

-Let people know they are heard, acknowledge the issue at hand, appropriately apologize for any missteps and let them know what you are doing to correct it.

-You may not agree with the complaint, and that’s OK. But make it known that you have heard their point of view and then you can make your point of view known.

While there are several steps for handling criticism right, there is one step that is always wrong: hiding. Be open and transparent about the issue; do not try to bury it, do not think it will go away. Problems, like a stinky cheese, get more potent with age. Responding in a timely manner is a better approach.

For example, when eBay had a 22-hour outage in June 1999, Meg Whitman had the whole company call customers and apologize. She also promised them a free listing day as soon as the site could handle the load. When struggled with service interruptions,  it built a trust site where anyone could see the status of the site. That transparent approach built trust with customers.

In another scenario, when Zendesk’s customers got vocal over a change its pricing a few years ago, the company went back to the old way and grandfathered existing customers in at the old price as well as offered a public apology. While these were difficult ordeals at the time—and ones that could have had negative long-term ramifications—the companies were made better by the experiences. They discovered that they had passionate customers who cared deeply about the company and products, and by listening and responding, these companies earned their customers’ loyalty and continued to enjoy massive growth.

Want to create evangelists? Consistently deliver an amazing product that people love. And, if you do something wrong, make it right. It’s not a dark time to retreat under the covers, but rather an amazing opportunity to show customers what you really are offering: a commitment to do everything you can to delight them.

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