How to React to Negative Publicity (and Keep Customers On Board)

It stings to know someone doesn’t like you. Hearing someone attack your business can hurt even more. After all, that’s your baby – your pride and joy.

Responding to negative feedback can be challenging. In this post, we’ll look at how you can approach this touchy subject in a way that doesn’t alienate your customers.

But first, let’s examine the wrong way to react to negative publicity: defence and deflection.

Amy’s Baking Company was the first business Gordon Ramsay (from Kitchen Nightmares – a TV show about reviving failing restaurants) walked out on because they wouldn’t listen to his advice.

Here are some reviews off their Yelp page:

Replying to negative feedback

And here’s Amy’s Baking Company’s reaction via Facebook:

Amy's Baking Company's reaction to negative feedback

Another reaction to negative feedback

And that’s not where it ended; they kept posting late into the night, threatening to pursue legal action against all their critics.

This is a great example of negative feedback via unhappy customers. People tried the products and didn’t like them. Other types of negative publicity include true or false rumours, unintentionally (or intentionally) self-inflicted controversial publicity, and associating your business with “questionable” characters or celebrity endorsements.

You can’t please everyone, that’s part of doing business, but your mistakes are going to be observed much more closely than your achievements. Customers are twice as likely to speak out about a negative experience with your brand than a positive one. But less than 5% will bring up their concerns to you, or anyone associated with, your business.

So, what does that mean? Maybe receiving negative feedback isn’t a bad thing. Someone calling you out may be your only window of opportunity to address an issue that several of your customers may be experiencing.

 “If there is any secret of success, it lies in the ability to get to the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own” – Henry Ford

The first step to addressing negative feedback is to examine the issue and find out what really happened. And you better do it fast. People may swarm into the conversation, causing a ripple effect. That’s when things can get dangerous and spiral out of control. If you’re not quick to respond, customers may assume you’re brushing them off. For good reason too, considering 56% of customer tweets to companies are being ignored.

Responding to issues is necessary, but how do you do that in a way that keeps your customers on board? Here’s a simple three-step process:

1. Acknowledge

Respond. Let the person know you are looking into the issue. Be specific as to what you are doing. This is your opportunity to ask questions and gather the information you need.

2. Apologize

Even if it wasn’t your fault, say you’re sorry. A simple apology can calm a person down tremendously. Just do it.

3. Act

Make things right. Explain what happened, and offer an immediate solution. Be generous – offer a complete refund, if applicable. Even if it will cost you money now, you will build valuable trust between you and your customer base. This moment is not about being right or wrong. It’s about making your customers feel good.

Mistakes happen. It’s inevitable. The most important lesson to learn from negative feedback is how to avoid it in the future. Take the bad experience, improve your practices, products, and services – and move forward as a better business. Confronting issues head on might make you vulnerable, but it will build respect, and keep your customers on board.


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