Best Practices

Dealing With Detractors: Four Steps for Addressing Negative Feedback

Published Jun 21, 2019

In his Inc. article, “The Secret Ratio That Proves Why Customer Reviews Are So Important,” author Andrew Thomas concluded that it takes roughly 40 positive customer experiences to undo the damage of a single negative review.

We spend a lot of time identifying buyers, key stakeholders, influencers, and blockers during the sales process. But what do you do after the sale is made? Are those blockers or detractors high on the list of people from whom you continue to solicit feedback? Do you even remember who they are once that contract is signed? 

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to listen to criticism. It requires the ability to separate the person from the feedback and to remember not to take it personally if someone tells you your baby is ugly. If you apply Thomas’s ratio to an office full of your users, you’ll realize that ignoring your critics can have a lasting negative impact on your business.

If you agree, here’s what you should do about it.


This isn’t about personas. This is about identifying your product’s biggest detractors. It’s really easy to find the extroverts — they make themselves known. According to an article in Forbes, 30% to 50% of your users may be introverted and unlikely to speak up in an interview or group setting. In “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” author Susan Cain reminds us that introverts also need time to process prior to responding. Your most influential critics may be hiding in plain sight. Giving your users multiple ways to provide feedback, including written, will make room for everyone. Also, consider seeking them out by not asking for feedback at all but by looking at their usage. Should you have a product with transparent user metrics, identify the users who are in the bottom 20% of usage and reach out directly.


Once you find your product’s largest critics, establish a relationship with them. This is critical to getting to the crux of their issues. Get out from behind your computer screen and meet with them in person. Ask them to show you what works and what doesn’t. Your job here is not to defend your product — it’s to get to the root cause. Addressing their concerns come later.

You may be thinking, “The author just told me that written communication channels are ok, what gives?” Those channels are ok, at first. Subsequently, though, there is no substitute for in-person communication. Non-verbal cues are critical here. Albert Mehrabian, a major figure in the study of non-verbal communication, introduced an equation about contradictory feedback in his 1971 book “Silent Messages:” “Total feeling = 7% verbal feeling + 38% vocal feeling + 55% facial feeling.” In other words, “the degree of liking conveyed by the facial expression will dominate and determine the impact of the total message.”   

If you can’t meet in person and travel is not in the budget, then video calls are your friend (no matter how weird they are at first). If you have user counts that far eclipse your organization’s ability to interact in person, first let me say “Congratulations!” Second, that’s no excuse. Find key accounts and key buyers and sample your base.


The feedback you get is going to fall into three major categories: 

1. Training Issues

When our teams conduct customer interviews, we typically find that 50% or more of the user’s issues come down to a lack of knowledge. This is a good thing. Training issues, while frustrating, are by far the most cost-effective and quick issues to fix. Dispatch someone directly for 1:1 time to close the skills gap. Find them a super-user buddy to pair with. Create new online training materials if you see a pattern. Adjust your onboarding. Taking the extra time to go back and show the user what they were missing is critical to flipping them from detractor to promoter. 

2. Product Issues

Tomes have been written on how to prioritize customer feedback. I’ll spare you that. What I will tell you is that you owe the person who shared their suggestions an update on the outcome of their feedback. Give them specifics — what are you changing? When can they expect it? Most importantly, a personal note when the improvement goes live goes a long way toward encouraging constructive feedback and showing the customer that they were heard.

3. “Non-Product” Issues

There are times when your product ends up the target for issues that have nothing at all to do with the product itself. Personal problems, turf wars, and overwhelming workloads are examples of issues that can cause serious angst in the workplace. Your users might take their frustrations out on your product. You find this out through listening and then treating this feedback with the grace it deserves. Namaste to all of us on this one.


A single interaction is likely not going to be enough here. Establishing trust with your customers and especially those who are not your product’s biggest fans can take time — years, in fact. One survey says it takes two years before your customers trust your brand — or, more specifically, two years for a customer to simply view your brand as reliable. Your job is not to solve their problems in a single interaction. Your job is to build a relationship with them over time.

Seeking out your critics is not for the faint of heart, but you’ll be glad you did.