Strategies for Using Negative Feedback to Drive Change

Emily James

Pitch It: The Business Case for Customer Salience

As insight experts, we understand the power of insights, their inherent value in key decision-making...


Emily James

    Nobody likes negative feedback. To be told that your work has not met desired expectations is discouraging, however, without feedback how can we improve? Everyone has experienced negative feedback at some point in their careers, it is how we choose to deal with it that shows everyone how successful we are; this applies to businesses too. How companies deal with negative feedback shows consumers how successful they truly are.

    There are many examples of businesses that have received negative feedback. One prime example is Google Buzz. Some people may remember Google’s attempt to integrate themselves into the social media scene in early 2010; the initial premise was ambitious: if every Google customer was automatically enrolled onto Google Buzz then Google would instantly have more active users than Twitter, (170 million vs. 75 million respectively) making the scheme an overnight success. However, there were a lot of problems with Google Buzz, not the least of which was a huge privacy issue that allowed the users’ private information to be made public. While Google eventually fixed the issue, the copious amounts of negative feedback and the distinctive rise in popularity of other social media sites overrode Google’s attempts to better their product and eventually the programme shut down after just 22 months and was replaced with Google+. So what can businesses do to avoid situations like this?

    Processing Negative Feedback for Change

    Market research is a great tool for discovering the best and worst elements of your brand or product. There are a variety of tools available to researchers enabling them to really get into the nitty gritty of evaluative feedback such as online communities, focus groups, and panels; there are also lots of people who would love nothing more than to test out designs for future products or advert examples and leave very detailed feedback. These tools are powerful, and when used right can harness the full potential of feedback to inform action plans for the betterment of the business.

    One way to drive change using feedback is to connect it to larger company goals. This simple action makes it more likely that the feedback will be responded to. It will also drive home the fact that the company goals are on track with consumer insight trends since the feedback matches up to the business plans. For example, many customer service issues revolve around response times, which is very important to gaining and retaining customers. Use customer feedback to inform improvements such as decreasing wait times, which can be done by employing more people to answer calls; more people manning the phones means more calls answered a minute. Alternatively, you can add in different methods of contacting the company, such as email or live chat features on the website, which should decrease the amount of people calling in and make the call centre contact process more streamlined as a result.

    Another way to drive improvements is to refer back to negative feedback as the inciting incident for change. As companies move away from the inciting incident they can sometimes lose focus of why they are working towards or prioritising a particular goal. By referring back to the feedback this freshens the memory and works to propel progress along. However, in big companies, feedback can tend to get lost through the cracks; making sure that the feedback gets to the right person is crucial for resolving the issue as quickly and effectively as possible. The key is to make sure the right people resolve it, not so that it is functional again, but to improve it in accordance with the consumers’ needs.

    Insight-driven businesses thrive on feedback and rely on consumer insight in order to figure out how to improve, develop, or evolve a product or their brand. These businesses are growing at a fantastic rate and profiting due to their consumer-orientated culture. One example of this is Netflix. Netflix has taken off since its conception, always increasing its database of films and TV shows depending on what consumers want to watch. It gathers this data, not only by asking their current customers questions, but also by asking the public questions through mediums such as sponsored Buzzfeed quizzes on various social media channels. They collect this insight and tailor their catalogue according to insight trends in order to appeal to the majority and generate more revenue.

    Negative Feedback Will Never Die

    Nevertheless, even if companies do everything right, some people will still complain. There are people who complain just to see how much damage they can do and there is a skill to reading purposefully negative comments to find the little golden nugget of information that actually allows the company to resolve an issue or improve a feature. Take this example for inspiration:

    McDonald’s is a business that everyone loves to hate, but it is still successful due to the convenience of its service. This massive company is going through a key rebranding process that was brought about due to one of the most effective negative feedback sources ever created: the 2004 Super Size Me documentary. This documentary highlighted everything that was wrong with McDonald’s and aired it to millions of viewers, sparking an international boycott of the brand due to the undesirable reputation. McDonald’s have since taken on this feedback and evolved dramatically, changing its image from a key contributor of the obesity epidemic to a healthier alternative for fast food. They offer healthier options including salads and fruit and advertise locally sourced meat rather than cheaper imported substitutes. The brand is recovering well due to the fact they took on the negative feedback and used it to drive the needed change in order to become a popular consumer choice again. However, there is a still a public stigma around the franchise due to the documentary which people love to bring up. McDonald’s marketing has evolved to deal with such comments and is well-designed to prove they have changed once and for all.

    How to Receive Negative Feedback Effectively

    Every piece of feedback is a spring board for better things if you are open-minded, and that is where most people fail. Your mind-set is key when reading feedback. If you have a negative mind-set, you will have a negative reaction. If you have a positive mind-set you will automatically be open to new feedback, even if it’s negative, and then it is easy to take the issue on board and focus on it until it’s fixed.

    One way to gain more information is to ask questions. This applies everywhere, no matter whether you are researching a group of participants in an online community or are out in the streets asking for people for their opinions, take the time to ask participants for clarification. This will show the consumer that you are open to feedback and want to know more about how to fix or improve the issue and will instantly make them more receptive to you and your brand. If it is a misunderstanding or a product of misinformation on the consumer’s side this gives you a chance to explain and resolve the issue by correcting or providing more clarifying information to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. If the feedback is genuinely pointing out an issue then you can deal with it accordingly, notifying users of any changes or updates to combat the feature, again resulting in them being more receptive to your brand.


    Using negative feedback to drive change is essential to a successful business. It may be hard to take on negative feedback from consumers but there is no other way for companies to improve as well as they need to in order to keep up with the current markets. Negative feedback should be the focal point or basis of company goals, with everyone working to achieve them and referring back to the inciting moment when stuck or moving slower than expected.

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