What do you do when someone leaves a negative review of your business online? Ignore it and hope it goes away? Delete it and pretend it never happened? These kinds of reactions are only natural — no one enjoys receiving negative feedback. However, according to customer experience expert Jay Baer, these reactions will only backfire.
During our digital conference, Birdeye View, our VP of Product Marketing, Rebecca Colwell, sat down with Baer to discuss strategies for constructively handling negative customer feedback. Baer is the author of the bestselling book “Hug Your Haters” and has consulted with over 700 major brands on improving customer experience.
In this blog, we’ll cover the key lessons Baer shared with Colwell on extracting value from negativity.
Want to hear the full conversation? Access the webinar here.
Table of contents
Acknowledging feedback wins customer loyalty
When a customer takes the time to lodge a complaint, they are giving you an opportunity to potentially win back their loyalty. Unfortunately, the vast majority of unhappy individuals quietly stop engaging with a company without saying anything. Baer highlighted startling data on just how rarely people actually speak up when dissatisfied. Here is what the research reveals:
- For every 100 dissatisfied customers, only around five will proactively voice a complaint.
- The other 95 take their business elsewhere without saying a word.
This silent mass exodus sounds a warning bell. As Baer succinctly put it, “A customer you ignore is a customer you should be prepared to lose.” The vocal minority who complain represent a golden chance to resolve issues before it’s too late. The silent majority who disappear are the real revenue threat.
Even if you can’t turn all of your public detractors into vocal advocates, acknowledging criticism shows that you are listening. This simple act of responsiveness provides public reassurance to the many other observers monitoring how you handle negative situations online.
Distinguishing between public & private complainers
Every dissatisfied customer is unique, which means there’s no magic solution to making things right. Understanding what you’re working with is the key to a successful resolution. Baer identified two major classes of complainers:
- Offline/private complainers: Communicate via phone, email, or in person. Tend to be older and expect a direct response.
- Online/public complainers: Vent on public forums like review sites or social media. Tend to be younger and often don’t anticipate a reply.
For private offline complaints, the priority is resolving each issue quickly, completely, and without transferring customers between departments. Public online commentary requires a different approach — respond openly before taking discussions into private messages.
Make the most out of negative feedback: 4 Tips from Jay Baer
1. Respond to every message on every channel
Given the potential value of complaints, Baer advised that brands should strive to “respond to every customer, every channel, every time.” This engagement strategy certainly requires extensive time and resources. However, it builds immense customer trust and loyalty over the long term.
Baer acknowledged that the dizzying surge in channels makes complaint management much more complex than in years past. Disgruntled customers can now easily criticize companies via social media, text messaging, review sites, community forums, and more. Carefully tracking, aggregating, and coordinating responses across every touchpoint is essential to avoiding frustrated customers.
2. See your haters’ feedback as a gift
Receiving criticism can feel like a dagger to the heart. It feels so personal. Baer stressed that this instinctive response triggers a “fight or flight” stress reaction, making it hard to objectively assess and thoughtfully respond to feedback.
To overcome this tendency, Baer emphasized the urgent need for a major mental reframing. Rather than resenting “haters,” their candid and unfiltered input should be appreciated as an invaluable customer gift and service. Even exaggerated or unjust complaints generally contain kernels of truth.
3. Analyze review content, not just ratings
When evaluating customer feedback, Baer cautioned against fixating solely on 1-5 star ratings or simplistic numeric scores. While directionally insightful, these metrics fail to provide tangible opportunities for improvement.
Instead, Baer urged paying close attention to the qualitative verbatim text within reviews and social media posts. He said 3-star reviews often contain the most thoughtful and balanced opinions, as people explain their mixed sentiments in great detail.
Carefully analyzing the words and language real customers use in context provides actionable competitive insights that basic star ratings lack. This textual analysis unlocks targeted ways to enhance products, services, and business processes.
4. Strategically limit public conversations
When responding online, Baer strongly advised against getting drawn into lengthy public back-and-forth debates. His simple rule of thumb: “Reply only twice.”
In other words, briefly explain your position just once or twice, then intentionally disengage. Don’t keep fruitlessly arguing point-by-point in comments. This restraint avoids inflaming tensions while still signaling you paid attention.
AI: Your ally in diffusing raw emotions
Receiving criticism can feel intensely personal and trigger inflammatory, knee-jerk responses. Baer explained that technology like BirdAI can help defuse these volatile emotions and respond to customers in the most effective, efficient way possible. Here’s how:
- AI-generated reply templates: BirdAI creates initial responses to criticism and facilitates empathetic, consistent communication at scale. You can tweak these responses as necessary before pressing send.
- Empowering human teams: AI handles basic replies, allowing human team members to focus on cases requiring deeper, personalized dialogue. It also promotes efficient time management within teams for more effective communication.
- Strategic AI integration: AI enhances human capability without fully replacing it. Thoughtfully integrated AI helps smaller teams manage larger volumes of complaints with composure and efficiency.
Embrace the haters and strengthen your brand’s reputation
Negative feedback is never enjoyable or easy to receive gracefully. But avoiding criticism can jeopardize your brand’s reputation. By embracing your haters instead of ignoring them, you can identify areas needing improvement, strengthen customer relationships, and demonstrate that you authentically care.