Negative User Feedback? Handle it like Bill Gates!
Nobody likes getting negative feedback.
If you don’t like getting negative feedback either – congratulations! You’re a human! You’d probably pass the Turing Test! 🤖 🎉
It’s normal. It hits our egos and makes us feel like a failure. But the whole point of killing it like a pro – in product or elsewhere – is not to take negative feedback personally.
Yes. A spate of bad reviews can be a serious obstacle to growth, retention and customer acquisition.
But for SaaS companies – when it’s handled correctly – negative feedback can also be one of the fastest routes to improving your product, customer service and even marketing.
Ask Bill Gates:
Source: Bill Gates, Business @ the Speed of Thought (1999)
At Userpilot, we’ve taken this on board and now we’re going to share what we’ve learned. In this post we’ll discuss:
- Why negative feedback matters
- Sources of negative feedback
- How to proactively categorize and collect feedback
- Tools for categorizing and collecting feedback
- How to respond positively to negative feedback
- How to learn from negative user feedback and improve
- You need to collect, categorise and respond proactively to negative feedback – so seek it directly from users and track comments elsewhere
- When handled properly, complaints can actually lead to increased user satisfaction. That’s not just about the solution provided, but also the way you put it across
- As well as improving retention through satisfaction, negative feedback can tell you how to improve your product, as long as you know which feedback to listen to…
Why negative feedback matters
You should care about negative feedback, because your customers – actual and potential – care about it:
- 89% of people look for new suppliers after just one bad experience (Oracle)
- Americans tell an average of 15 people about a bad customer experience, compared to just 11 about a good one (American Express)
- 88% of buyers are influenced by online reviews when making purchase decisions (Zendesk)
- 67% cite bad experiences as a reason for churn (ThinkJar)
- It costs between 5 and 25 times more to acquire new customers than to retain current ones (Harvard Business Review)
You don’t have to look too hard to find many, many more stats like this.
Social media and public review sites mean that negative feedback is often aired in public, so the way that you handle it affects not only the person complaining but also anyone else interested in you.
So before anything else, you need to know where to look for it.
Sources of negative feedback
There are three main sources to consider:
#1 Direct feedback sent to you (solicited feedback)
This is private feedback you have specifically asked for at particular points. It will be found in:
Looking for easy-to-use NPS surveys? Talk to our specialists now!
- Chat logs
- Offboarding questionnaires (aka churn surveys)
#2 Feedback left on owned media (semi-solicited feedback)
You can think of this kind of public feedback as “semi-solicited” insofar as you’ve made it possible for people to reply, but it’s not in a one-to-one environment. For example:
- Comments left below your blogs
- Discussions on your social media properties
#3 Feedback left in public (unsolicited feedback)
Public feedback that is not on one of your own properties is usually unsolicited. This includes:
- Reviews on sites like G2 and Capterra
- Blogs and the comments under them
- Social media groups and other social media pages
- Forums and discussion sites like Quora
There are many different places where your service and reputation can be a topic of conversation.
That’s why it’s vital to be on top of all of them, and to collect, collate and categorize all the negative feedback that’s out there.
How to proactively collect and categorize feedback
They key to dealing with negative feedback is understanding what the root cause of the complaint is.
In almost every situation, this will be one of three things:
- The user is failing to get the desired value from your service, and this can be fixed through proper onboarding and education
- The user is failing to get the desired value from your service, but this is because what they want cannot be provided by your service (they are a “bad fit customer”)
- The user has had an encounter with your service or your staff that has annoyed/upset them, and this can be dealt with by giving a good experience to counteract the bad one
For example: if a user is complaining about an absent feature:
- Is the feature there?
- If yes, educate the user to raise awareness
- If no, would adding that feature help your best users to succeed? Or is this is a bad fit user?
- If it would help the best users, consider adding it to your product roadmap and thank the user!
- If it would not, explain politely to the user why you are not going to add it
This system works for direct feedback and for public feedback.
Feature requests are one common type of feedback. Other categories for negative feedback will include:
- UX complaints
- Bugs and technical problems
- Customer support waiting times
- Customer support outcomes
- Failure to achieve value (relative to price)
- Admin errors (such as overcharging)
Depending on what your SaaS does, there may be other categories as well.
Whatever the user says, you need a system that allows you translate what it – whether that’s a simple “1” NPS score or a 500-word rant – into one of your categories.
When and how to collect direct feedback
You should be asking for feedback at key points in the user experience. This can be through a formal survey or – better yet – a contextual microsurvey.
- At the end of an onboarding flow: check that a user is happy they’ve understood what has been learned
- Upon completion of a task: check that a user is satisfied with the outcome
- Towards the end of a free trial period: proactively assess what may need to be done to retain the user
- After the resolution of a problem (whether through customer support or self-serve materials): check the user is satisfied with the outcome. Here’s a sample microsurvey from Qualaroo.
A lot of negative feedback at these points is a very strong signal that your processes need to be revised.
Collecting public feedback
This is slightly trickier because this can appear anywhere…
- The first step is to proactively monitor all locations where you can reliably expect feedback to appear: your own blog; your own social media pages; review sites for your sector.
- The next step is to track the entire rest of the internet. And that’s going to take tools…
Tools for collecting and categorizing feedback
“Brand mentions” are a big deal in PR, and you need to be on top of them too.
There are many tools out there which scan millions of online sources for certain keywords (usually you company or product name) and support that with analytical tools:
- Brand 24 is an online media monitoring tool that provides a 14 day free trial. As well as tracking trends in mentions, it has automated sentiment analysis, allowing you to segment positive mentions from negative ones – and alerting you when they occur. You can also use it to track hashtags.
- One of the best things about Awario as a media monitoring tool is that you can respond directly to social media mentions from within the app – making handling negative feedback a very rapid affair. Awario also has a cool feature for classifying commenters by Reach, giving you a sense of how influential they are. However, with only a 7 day free trial period, you may find it hard to configure and see results before you need to pay for it.
- Sentione has been doing social listening since 2012 and has taken automation to great lengths. This saves you a lot of resources and agent time, if a chatbot is set up to handle low level problems and triage more serious ones
Some people like to stick all their feedback into a big spreadsheet, but we’re going to assume you haven’t got time for that!
- Refiner.io is a great new survey widget tool that has been designed specifically with SaaS companies in mind. Unlike some of the alternatives (eg Wootric), it allows you to pose any type of question, collates results and carries out analysis for generate actionable insights.
- Userpilot has just as much customizable survey functionality as Refiner and you can use several templates to build e.g. welcome screen surveys, NPS surveys off the bat:
Also – AI-powered sentiment analysis will soon be coming to Userpilot to make your life easier when it comes to categorizing the feedback from responses.
The upside of using Userpilot for your micro surveys is that – since it’s mostly a product adoption platform – you can immediately act upon certain types of feedback by building in-app experiences in response to them.
Speaking of product adoption…why not learn more about it in our free email course?
The downside? Less refined analytics than Refiner.
How to respond positively to negative feedback
Here are the six most important things to do.
Did you know that 87% of businesses don’t response to their negative reviews at all?
That’s even though:
- 7 out of 10 people changed their minds about a brand after the company replied to a review
- 33% of negative reviewers are prepared to write a positive one in response to a company reply, while 34% would delete the negative original
- 37% of buyers positively factor responses to negative reviews into their purchase decisions
If you’re not engaging with your critics, it looks like you don’t care about their concerns – or maybe you agree with them!
#2 Respond politely
No matter how angry a criticism makes you, never respond in a rude or aggressive manner to negative feedback.
Remember: once the emotion is taken out of the equation, all complaints stem from just three basic sources: failure to discover value; bad support experience; or bad customer fit.
All those are on you.
And it’s important to remember: most businesses only hear from around 4% of their unhappy customers. The rest stay silent.
You should be thanking them for drawing your attention to a problem that could cost you a lot of business!
#3 Respond promptly
In B2B contexts, slow response is cited as the most common pain point. It’s raised twice as often as price.
So speed of response matters. Groove recommends taking no longer than 24 hours to acknowledge feedback.
But the channel matters. As Hubspot has noted, 72% of Twitter users expect a response within an hour.
#4 Come back with solutions
Take the time to investigate and categorize a user’s negative feedback before responding. That will allow you to come back either with a solution or with contextually-relevant questions:
- If mistakes have been made, acknowledge it. Don’t be defensive.
- Don’t ask them to repeat information they’ve already given! This is very irritating.
- If a user is legitimately unhappy (eg they’ve been overcharged), be prepared to offer discounts or a plan upgrade to compensate.
- If they’re asking for new features or UX, explain how you plan to address the issue in your product roadmap.
- If you can offer a solution, provide a timeframe – and then be sure to hit that target.
- If you can’t, be honest about it. Don’t create expectations you can’t fulfill, or you will make matters worse.
Here’s a great example from Kyle Racki of Proposify:
The reply he got for his effort concluded like this:
#5 Follow up
Close the loop on your suggested solutions by following up to make sure the source of the negative feedback has been dealt with.
This personal touch goes a long way to showing that you care about their success.
Groove does this really well. New feature requests are added to a simple Trello board. When the feature is added they send personalized messages to everyone who asked for it. Here’s some of the feedback this approach produced.
Great service can turn unhappy users into promoters.
This is sometimes called the Service Recovery Paradox, where the successful resolution of a bad experience generates more loyalty than if it had never occurred.
#6 Treat public feedback the same as private feedback
It is so easy for an unhappy user to share their experiences online that you can never rely on a private conversation remaining so.
Handle both transparently, honestly and in good faith and you will either satisfy the complainer or come across positively to third parties watching the exchange.
How to learn from negative user feedback and improve
It’s one thing to make unhappy users happy again, but how does negative feedback actually help you to improve your product?
We’ve already mentioned the answer: only a tiny fraction of people experiencing a problem actually go the trouble of complaining.
Negative feedback tells you what to fix
Take complaints as a prompt to dig for and solve the causes of those complaints. Then your future users will not experience that frustration!
And if you’re not learning from negative feedback, you should know that your competitors surely are!
In this video, Sujan Patel of Mailshake explains (20:44) how he built his tool around bad reviews of other marketing email providers:
- He found a common theme in users complaining that the available tools were too hard to use and that they didn’t use all the features
- So Mailshake was designed to have only the most-used features and to be really easy to use – specifically to outperform the alternatives on their weakest points
There’s no reason why you can’t be doing this with your competitors.
But given how much more cost-effective it is to keep your current users than to poach them from other companies, your first priority should be fixing your own causes for complaint.
But ignore the bad fit customers
However, you should not rewrite your product roadmap every time a user asks for something new. Nor should you offer a discount every time somebody says your SaaS is too expensive.
Not all feedback is equally valuable.
You need to cater to your best customers and to attract more users like them. Your best customers are the ones to get so much value from your service that the price is not an issue.
- Bad fit customers don’t see the value, so they ask for money off
- If your users are churning fast, you probably have a lot of bad fit customers who are not realizing value
Your first action should be to help them get more out of your service by offering education and support. But that won’t deliver for everyone.
So focus your attention on the feedback provided by your ideal customers – that is, the ones who get the most value and who pay the most.
Because Close.com’s functionality was geared towards inside sales teams, not field agents. Providing a mobile app would add an audience who would not get the best out of the rest of the product.
This is what we do at Userpilot as well. When we were getting started, we had feedback from a lot of other SaaS founders who suggested we should add various features – but who didn’t want to pay for them.
The feedback from our peers and role models was welcome, but we couldn’t incorporate it into our standard offerings. So we had to separate it out from the feedback we were prepared to act on.
For instance – Userpilot doesn’t run on third-party apps. This is because we consciously decided to focus on user onboarding (and product adoption) rather than employee onboarding.
Interested in improving Product Adoption? Get a free call with one of the Userpilot Product Specialists to see what it can do for you!
If you find your business getting a lot of bad fit users:
- Change how you market your value proposition. When there is a gap between how your service appears and what it actually delivers, it’s a recipe for negative feedback and bad fit users
- Look at what they are asking for. Is there another product they need that you could partner with? Or could you develop something suitable yourself?
- But don’t be led astray by their comments. Stick to the product roadmap that fits your best customers
So in conclusion:
- Collect, categorize and respond proactively to negative feedback wherever it is coming from.
- When handled properly, complaints can actually lead to increased user satisfaction – so have clear processes and a focus on quality outcomes.
- As well as improving retention through satisfaction, negative feedback can provide important signals for how to improve your product and how to prioritize new features.
- But be careful – only take on board improvements that serve your best customers. Other feedback can lead you astray.
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