How To Handle Negative Feedback To Improve Your Business and Strengthen Your Client Relationships

“I just feel like the magic is gone.”

Since MFF’s birth in 2011, this has been an on-going piece of feedback I hear at least once every couple of months. And admittedly, for someone who is as personally invested in their business as I am, it really used to bum me out.

To be clear, it’s still not my favorite thing to hear. I much prefer to hear “This place is amazing! Your team is incredible!! You’ve changed my life!!!

But none of us are perfect and MFF is no exception. While I no longer let this comment get me down the way it used to, I do take it seriously every time I hear it. It means this Ninja has been experiencing behaviors over some period of time with members of our team that have led them to feel like, well… “like the magic is gone.”

And it’s not always easy to share feedback like that. Most of your clients would prefer to avoid the confrontation and will simply terminate their memberships. And in a worst-case scenario, they simply don’t care enough one way or the other.

Remember, it may not feel like it in the moment, but it’s a gift when someone takes the time to pass on feedback. It means they care.

Here are three steps and two systems to help you constructively handle the feedback to improve your business and strengthen your relationship with the client.

Three Steps To Handle Negative Feedback

  1. Stay calm and avoid getting reactive. Mostly they just need you to listen and know you give a shit.

In Jay Baer’s excellent book Hug Your Haters, he notes most people need an average of 26 hours for hurt feelings to subside after negative feedback. This is all the tougher when clients are expecting an immediate response in today’s age of social media-driven rapid response times.

A classic mistake upon receiving negative feedback is acting out with hurt feelings. Listen, it’s never fun to hear something negative about your business. It makes sense to have a physical reaction; your stomach drops, you chest tightens, your face heats up, etc. Even more common than getting reactive with clients is to simply bury your head in the sand with anger, hurt, or shame.

But when you learn to master yourself and respond calmly, you will see it’s actually an opportunity in disguise.

The client may not always be right, but they’re always perfect and they are always correct about their experience and their feelings. Never forget they are giving you a gift. They don’t have to say anything. They’re doing something that’s probably scary for them because they give a shit about your business. Furthermore, you can bet at least 10 other clients are having similar thoughts but don’t feel comfortable reaching out.

If you or your team have been dropping the ball somehow, they are doing you an awesome favor because now you can address it.

If the feedback is due to a misunderstanding of some kind, you can address it.

And in the scenario you believe their feedback is legitimately off, they are still having appropriate feelings based on their perspective. And as a high-integrity owner, you still care about them. Even if you never see exactly eye-to-eye, you have the opportunity to genuinely hear them and let them know you truly care they had a less-than-awesome experience.

  1. Separate the behavior from the story.

One of the challenges with feedback is that it’s often a bit general. Since your clients are usually not trained in the art of feedback, you’ll often get their interpretation of events (the “story”) as opposed to specific behaviors that left them bummed.

In this situation, your best bet is to follow-up and ask for more details.

If a client tells you “I feel like your trainers are phoning in their sessions,” you can ask more questions to learn more about their concerns. What specific behaviors did the client see that led them to believe the staff isn’t engaged? Was the trainer low-energy? Were they not giving individual coaching cues? When were the specific sessions the client saw this behavior? Which team members were demonstrating this behavior?

Admittedly, your client may not always feel comfortable sharing specifics. Remember, if they’re talking to you it’s because they care about you enough to tell you. But they may not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

That said, if you can get specific feedback you’ll obviously be much better positioned to look into their concerns and talk with individuals about specific behaviors.

  1. Always follow-up about the action you took. ALWAYS.

This point is VERY important. It’s something we’ve started working very hard on in the past six months, as our goal is 100% success in following up with Ninjas after getting constructive feedback. In the past we’ve occasionally missed this important final step.

It can be easy to sincerely thank a client for the feedback, address the issue, and proudly move on with your day. But that’s not enough. You can’t simply fix the problem internally.

Remember, the client is giving you a gift. It’s important to take the time to follow-up with a response and close the loop. If they don’t get confirmation from you that you’ve addressed it, they can be left wondering what happened. Oftentimes they’ll assume nothing was done.

And don’t forget, it’s ok to follow back up and let them know you’re not able to address the issue if there’s nothing you can do for whatever reason. By letting them know and explaining your reasoning, they’ll at least know you care about them and their feelings.

Following-up is a sign of respect. It helps “train” your clients that giving feedback is safe, welcomed, and highly valued!

IMPORTANT NOTE: This applies internally with your team. Actually… ALL of these points apply to your “internal customer service.”

 

Two Systems For Getting And Processing Feedback

  1.  Create ways to get feedback anonymously through suggestion boxes, online forms, and surveys.

While some clients will be comfortable coming right out and letting you know if they had a bad experience or are having a problem, many will never feel comfortable. Most people don’t like conflict. So even if they do care enough to pass it along, you may need to provide them a venue to share it anonymously.

You can set up a suggestion box at your front desk. This is great when someone wants to share something in the moment, when they prefer analog options, and when they don’t mind being seen by your team writing a suggestion.

You can also create an anonymous “digital suggestion box” on your website. This is great for longer comments, for digital-savvy clients, and for people that prefer even more anonymity.

Lastly, you can do regular email surveys of your clients. This is great to get on-going feedback and nudge people who otherwise may not think to take the time without being explicitly prompted.

Just make sure your survey is as easy to fill out as possible. Remember, they’re doing you a favor by filling it out. Consider using a few questions they rank on a scale of 1-10 with a non-required open-ended field to share anything else they want to let you know.

A final point: it’s important to let them sign their name if they feel comfortable. While you want them to have an option to share anonymously, you’ll still want to follow-up whenever possible to get more clarity and to let them know the outcome.

  1. Create a system to aggregate all feedback (Good AND Bad)

As your fitness business grows, it gets harder and harder to organize all the feedback. At Mark Fisher Fitness we have a system called GLOWS and GROWS where we review all feedback weekly with the entire team to make sure we don’t miss anything and look for trends to address.

 

This isn’t strictly necessary in a brand new fitness business, but once you have four or more people, you’ll want to think of a way to collect and track feedback. If you have four other people on your staff, they may all hear the same off-hand, no-big-deal, sort-of-a-complaint comment from different clients. Without a system, you may miss something that’s becoming a persistent issue.

Finally, it’s great to publicly acknowledge and celebrate positive feedback. By listening to what your clients are loving, you’ll see what behaviors you and your team want to continue to emphasize.

 

Customer service is THE ultimate differentiator in most businesses. Particularly when you’re in the fitness industry, most of your clients’ experience is about how you make them feel. Great customer service will not only lead to clients that stay longer, it will help you make a greater impact on their lives. Clients that feel genuinely cared for by your business are more likely to commit to fitness as a lifestyle.

By learning to gracefully handle, process, and act on negative feedback, you’ll be able to let your clients lead you towards the best possible vision of your business.

This isn’t to say you’re always going to agree with your clients. As the owner-operator, your job is to juggle the needs of all shareholders in your business; your clients, your team, your landlord, your neighborhood, etc. Sometimes your clients may disagree with a choice you’re making because they don’t have all the info. And unfortunately, sometimes the info isn’t appropriate to share for ethical or legal reasons.

And business, like all of life, is subjective. It’s entirely possible even if they did have all the same info, they would have gone another way.

And that’s ok. Regardless of the final outcome, it’s only going to make your thinking better by really listening and genuinely considering their concerns. Furthermore, taking the time to really hear another person is one of the greatest signs of respect and care we can give another human being.

It’s not always easy to hear negative things. But ultimately, it’s always an honor when someone has taken the time to let you know how they think you can serve them better.

And at the end of the day, it always always ALWAYS leads to a better relationship between you and your client.

So the next time you get a potentially hurtful piece of feedback, take a pause to make sure you’re not being reactive. Ask questions to make sure you really understand the issue. Then follow-up about the outcome of the feedback.

Would love to hear any thoughts you have on processing feedback in a constructive way or any feedback on this article (SEE WHAT I FUCKING DID THERE?!). Leave a comment!

 

8 thoughts on “How To Handle Negative Feedback To Improve Your Business and Strengthen Your Client Relationships

  1. This post has some very valuable thoughts Mark. Thanks for all you do.

    A few from my perspective….

    As you said, most people will not speak up so I try to listen for the “unstated feedback”-are people smiling, laughing, what is the vibe, etc? Very subjective admittedly but this is the best feedback IMO.

    And completely agree…”bad” feedback is gold…painful gold…but gold….I take the position of assuming everything they say is true. If it is, what can we do to improve. These are incredible windows of opportunity…the pain opens the window…so I try to (painfully) jump through it.

    1. Great points my man. Have you bychance read Ray Dalio’s Principles? Sounds like you would dig it. One of my all time faves on how to handle feedback.

  2. That is an amazing work….A Bible of Clarity….:-)

    I have pages of notes but will just offer a few thoughts:

    1. The systematic, 5 step process is probably what struck me the most. Brilliant about separating those areas and executing those individually. I can see areas where I am strong..and areas where I can improve.

    2. I am pretty fascinated about the concept of examining personal/business weaknesses and trying to improve them. It is fascinating how the attitude about that concept (growth vs fixed) can make the experience a positive one..or terrifying. The underlying belief about the process creates either a closed steel door or an open, clear gateway. Taking some concepts from “Peak” (skills can be developed although finding the template may be hard and “talent” is either overrated and/or non-existent..) and applying those to addressing personal and/or career/business weaknesses is a pretty cool thought.

    3. I have always pictured business as a machine and love that metaphor. This is the way I have always visualized improvement or evolution.

    My take on the machine and dealing with complaints: “If I would have given people what they wanted, I would have given them a faster horse” and “a satisfied customer is a vulnerable customer” (they need to be overjoyed in a customer service business).

    We need to be trying to evolve the machine, systems, etc. where we address complaints before they arise. We need to back that machine up one step and always be thinking at a higher level about customer service (obviously preaching to the choir..) and trying to address people’s unspoken needs…needs they might not even understand or be able to articulate.

    And I think to a large extent that hinges on increasing the bond between employer and employee.

    While the processes and systems may never be finished, this is where we need to aim and think.

    Thanks for the opportunity to express my thoughts on your blog Mark. I have been starving for some intellectual communication on these ideas.

    I love this stuff. 🙂

    1. Well you’ve come to the right place my friend. It’s my greatest passion and I never get tired discussing it haha. 🙂

      AWESOME takeaways from Principles. Particularly intense head nodding along with your point on “fixed/ growth mindset.” Glad you dug it and appreciate your insight!

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