The Importance of Customer Feedback

by Hillary DePiano

There’s no business cliche more overused (and misunderstood) than “the customer is always right.” Of course, customers are not always right, and they’ll always place their own needs over yours. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable things to teach you about how to improve your business, even when they’re wrong. Feedback from your customers is incredibly valuable to you as a seller, whether left publicly, emailed to you or posted on social media, and you’d do well to listen.

Nobody likes a negative rating, especially after having worked hard to make a situation right. But while it’s easy to disregard a bad rating or nasty message as a fluke, that’s a mistake. Positive feedback validates what you’re already doing well, but you can almost always learn more from negative feedback and use that to strengthen and grow your business.

The Multiplier Effect

Something important to remember with feedback is that, for the one person who took the time to leave a comment, there are always more who are annoyed by the same thing. Most people just don’t take the time to write about it. By using feedback to tweak your selling, you’re not only improving your process for the one squeaky wheel, you’re making a better selling experience for everyone else, too. And the easier it is to buy from you, the happier your customers are with your service. This makes them not only more likely to return to buy more in the future, but also to tell their friends and give you that valuable word-of-mouth marketing.

The Top-Three Negatives

Let’s look at the three most common (and, let’s face it, most annoying) types of negative feedback and how we can use it to our advantage.

  • Unrealistic expectations. From the customer who pays for the slowest shipping and then complains that it didn’t arrive overnight to the buyer who doesn’t understand why the toy hoverboard they purchased doesn’t really surf the skies, there are few things more frustrating to a seller than dealing with a buyer who’s out of touch with reality. When a customer thinks your item should be able to do things that are physically impossible or that your shipping times can somehow defy the laws of time and space, it’s tempting to roll your eyes and ignore them. But this kind of feedback indicates that you could be doing a better job of managing customer expectations. From clearer pictures, more detailed product descriptions, better customer emails, to shipping estimates and updates, there are plenty of tweaks you can make to your selling that will not only satisfy outliers, but also do a better job pleasing your other customers, too.
  • Complaints about the item that make no sense (or are just plain wrong.) Sometimes the answer to the mystery isn’t obvious, but the cliche “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies here. If multiple people reference the same part or function or have similar nonsensical complaints, even if they’re in completely different contexts, you’ve got to take a closer look. Your customers are coming from a completely different perspective and may not have your experience, frame of reference or know the correct terminology. They may be having trouble explaining exactly what’s wrong, but just because their description of the issue is off doesn’t mean you can ignore what they’re saying.
  • Feedback just to get your attention. You read comments like this and want to scream into the sky, “Why the heck didn’t you just email me?” From the customer who leaves a negative feedback that’s really an order status request to the person leaving product reviews or feedback to ask for additional services or to resolve an issue, some buyers use public feedback channels like it’s email. While it’s maddening to have a clueless buyer polluting your public storefront, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem. It’s not easy enough to contact you. If you’d really rather your customers contact you before leaving you a bad feedback rating, you’ll have to make it as simple as possible to contact you. Few people have patience to jump through hoops, especially not a customer that’s already annoyed. You’ve got to be everywhere your customers are from social networks to more conventional methods like email and phone, and that info needs to be handy on your selling pages, package inserts and any external websites. A customer who contacts you is one you can talk out of leaving a bad rating or convert into a lifetime return buyer; so it’s well worth it to make it as simple to contact you as possible.

Customer feedback is incredibly important. No matter how they may drive us sellers nuts sometimes, without customers we have no business. Forget that at your peril. Anytime the people who directly give you money start talking, you should listen up and adjust accordingly. While you don’t want to overhaul everything you’re doing just to please one angry customer, be aware of the themes in what your customers are saying. Find out the areas most in need of work and then put those changes into action.

Originally published on January 23, 2016, updated May 23, 2019

This post is accurate as of the date of publication. Some features and information may have changed due to product updates or Amazon policy changes.