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PHOTO: Thomas Young

Good business owners will be inspired to take action when they receive complaints or any kind of critical feedback about their products or services.

Our deeply ingrained ideas about good customer service compel us to believe that, when a customer says something is wrong, we need to fix it. We want to abide by that often-debated adage, “The customer is always right.”

However, while customers should always feel like they are right, you can’t let every customer’s whim dictate how your business operates. 

It’s OK to Ignore Feedback

Of course, it’s important to incorporate the voice of the customer into your daily operations as much as you can. And your company should act upon feedback whenever possible, especially if a customer highlights something about the business that you recognize as flawed. 

But feedback isn’t always valid, and it doesn’t always oblige you to make changes. A 2018 New York Times article titled “Why You Can’t Really Trust Negative Online Reviews” notes that even the Great Wall of China has enough poor reviews to drop its Google rating down to 4.2 stars.

So how do you know what kind of feedback to act upon and what kind of feedback to ignore? There are four signs that feedback probably isn’t very valuable and could be ignored. Specifically, you would do well to question the value of criticism that comes from unverified users; grievances that amount to rare, one-off complaints; uninformed comments; and feedback that contradicts metrics.

Let’s take a look at each of those indicators in more detail.

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1. Unverified Users

It is very important to verify that the people who send you feedback actually purchased your product or service. Just as a consumer who’s shopping online might check to see that a review is based on a real purchase, a business owner should confirm that a critic is a real customer before taking any complaints to heart. 

If you can’t verify that someone made a purchase, and if that person is operating under total anonymity, the feedback is unlikely to be very valuable.

2. Rare, One-Off Complaints

You should be skeptical if someone calls or writes to complain about an aspect of your product or service that other customers usually praise. If it is the first time you’ve heard a particular complaint, and if that complaint is directed at something that other customers love, you probably don’t have to bother changing anything.

You truly can’t please everyone. Individual customers are, by nature, subjective about their own personal needs and experiences. Some people might love the new automated chat feature on your website; others may find it annoying.

Even if you receive multiple complaints about a feature, you still should do a cost-benefit analysis before making changes to that feature. If it’s an effective, practical component that is useful to your business, a few dissatisfied customers aren’t a reason to automatically abandon it.

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3. Uninformed Feedback

Not everyone who gives feedback about your product or service will be an expert in your industry. While verified users are more informed than non-users, they still might not be familiar with your industry or the technical realities of how your business operates.

Customers will sometimes make suggestions that are literally impossible, or that make no financial or business sense. That kind of feedback might be well-intentioned, but you have to learn to recognize where feedback is coming from rather than immediately treating every customer’s opinion as gospel.

If people are uninformed, their feedback is less likely to be applicable or valuable to the operation of your business.

4. Feedback That Contradicts Metrics

Customer feedback, spoken or written, is certainly not the only way to see what’s working and what isn’t working in your business. Your company’s metrics play an invaluable role in helping you assess the value and utility of your products and services, and they can help you gauge customer satisfaction. While feedback might tell you what customers think, metrics can tell you what they are actually doing — and that, in some ways, is far more valuable.

I’ve always said that it’s never too early to start gathering data on your business, even before you have real customers. Page view numbers, demographics of website visitors, and heat maps of your web pages can all provide valuable data that will help you make decisions about how to grow your business. When analyzed correctly, the patterns revealed in the data are arguably more useful to you than written or oral customer feedback.

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Don’t Overreact

Over the course of your life as an entrepreneur or business owner, feedback will be plentiful. The internet ensures that customers will always be providing you with honest opinions about your products or services. Responding with knee-jerk reactions to every piece of criticism would be damaging for your business; it’s also a strategy that would be virtually impossible to sustain.

Take all feedback with a grain of salt.

But Do Respond

Despite the fact that not all feedback will require you to change something about your business, all feedback does require a response. You should publicly address all reviews, especially negative ones, and attempt to address any valid issues that customers raise.

The customer isn’t always right, but people who take the time to offer you feedback always deserve a response.