Grow Your Small Business By Looking For the Negative


Photography Business Institute
Photography Business Institute

I’ll admit. I cringe when we get negative feedback at Photography Business Institute. Maybe it’s the oldest child in me, but I don’t deal well with dissatisfied clients. Yep, I take it personally.  I want everyone to be satisfied. When they aren’t, I just want to have a good cry. Yet I know we’re not perfect.

Here’s the thing I’ve realized. Without negative feedback, we’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again without knowing they are mistakes. And there’s more to it. I’d rather know why a client isn’t singing my praises or even worse, why a client may be telling others they are unhappy with my company while I’m oblivious.

Just because a client hasn’t told you they are dissatisfied, doesn’t mean she is thrilled. As small business owners, we need to relentlessly seek out the negative feedback, despite how it makes us feel initially. It’s a key to success if you want to grow your small business.

I recently had a bad experience at a local car dealership. My husband and I left our car to be serviced, and we were treated incredibly rudely by a salesman in the dealership. We walked out, shook our heads and said never again will we get our car serviced here. We’ll drive 2 hours to the next closest dealership to have this car serviced before we’ll let them service our vehicle again.

A few days after the experience, I received an online survey from the manufacturer. I filled it out and candidly shared my experience. It was easy to recall my experience and to respond anonymously. Another few days went by and I received a phone call from the local sales manager. I was traveling and didn’t have time to return his call, and frankly I wasn’t sure I wanted to waste my time telling them how terrible they are. I didn’t want to be mean, and I figured he was too close to the business to understand my concerns.

Then I received another short survey from the corporate office of the car manufacturer and filled it out again. Yesterday, I received a phone call from the corporate office of the car manufacturer. I recounted my experience in detail, sharing how the local dealership does not live up to the standards of the car brand. The representative was well-trained to get to the root of my issue and was very sympathetic and professional. When I hung up the phone, I felt better about the brand, but still won’t use the local dealership for my service needs.

The thing is, most of us find it’s hard to tell someone to their face that we’re unhappy with the service or product we purchased. When was the last time a waiter or waitress asked you how everything was with your meal and rather than cause a scene you just said it was fine despite the fact that it really was less than stellar? I know it’s rare for me. Your customers are probably the same way.

Here are my tips for seeking negative feedback:

1) Start with a survey. A few days after each client visits, give them the opportunity to share anything that they may not have been totally pleased with without putting them on the spot via a phone call. There are many free survey tools out there.  Survey Monkey has a good one, too.

2) Follow up with a phone call about anything in the survey that they may not have been satisfied with. If you have a staff, your clients may find it easier to share their disappointment with them rather than you personally. If you are the one making the call, keep your cool. Listen to their concerns. Don’t get defensive. Let them express their opinions.

3) Do what it takes to make it right. Most people will be thrilled that you care enough to listen to their concerns. That’s good enough for them. When you go the extra mile and make it right for them, they go from being disappointed to being thrilled. Those who are just taking advantage of your business are few and far between. Don’t run your business to avoid them. Instead, run your business for those in the majority who aren’t taking advantage of you.

Don’t get me wrong. I still cringe when I see that we have a disappointed client. Luckily it doesn’t happen often. But I’ve learned to view these as opportunities to thrill our clients. What do you do to seek out the negative feedback and improve your business?

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