by Jenna Kutcher
Negative reviews. Angry emails. Refund requests. Stubborn or needy clients. Snippy social media comments. Passive aggressive communication. If you own a business, you’ve dealt with some, if not all of these — I’m talking about negative feedback from customers or clients, and if you’re a human, you know it never feels good.
When we receive feedback that’s less than kind or uplifting, productive or complimentary, it’s sort of like hearing your parents tell you they’re disappointed in you. Sucker punch right to the heart, right? After all, you’ve poured your best intentions and sweat and hard work into your business, so to have people be dissatisfied with your efforts… It’s a tough pill to swallow, and it hurts.
Isn’t it so true that it’s easier to remember the critical feedback longer and more deeply than the rave reviews? But rather than harping on the criticism, moping in feelings of rejection, or lashing out against the naysayers, I want to walk you through the exact system my team and I use to deal with unsatisfied customers, negative feedback, and refunds.
That’s right… In true Jenna Kutcher fashion, we’ve created a system around even the touchiest of subjects: Criticism. And honestly, it was probably one of our smartest moves. No matter how amazing your business model is, no matter how many problems you solve, people you help, and success you find… you will always, always, always encounter displeased or disgruntled customers and criticism. And the very first thing you’ve got to do is stop taking it personally and get a plan in place to deal with the negativity gracefully and openly.
Setting the right expectations
Most often than not, negative experiences are times when the expectations didn’t align with the delivery, and you were left disappointed, frustrated, and with less money in your pocket. I mean, that’s a bummer no matter how you slice it.
What are the expectations you’re communicating from the get go with your clients? If you have unhappy people, it’s easy to blame them or talk about how miserable they are but truthfully, it’s usually a reflection on the lack of expectations you’ve set. Yup, I said it… it might actually be your fault, not every unhappy person is a miserable human being, maybe they just were expecting the moon and the stars and you delivered a dull Pluto.
As a short and sweet recap, I want you to remember that it’s your job to educate your clients. You got into entrepreneurship to call the shots, right? Well, when you introduce over-ambitious expectations, or wishy-washy expectations, or you don’t even set expectations in the first place, you’re inviting a LOT of room for disappointment when customers believe you’ve fallen short of your promise or when you aren’t agreeing to follow along with every one of their whims, wishes or desires.
Start with the end result FIRST when you’re working on your offer – whether it’s a product or service – because when you can define what each clients end result looks like, it becomes really easy for you to decipher if you delivered on your promise. If you don’t set that ruler to stand your offer up against, then you’re leaving people to decide their expectation of the experience and it might be totally out of alignment with what you’re actually offering.
It’s possible that you have misaligned or unrealistic expectations in several places on your website, marketing materials, social media, and even in-person conversations. If you’ve been experiencing a high volume of dissatisfied customers, or even if it’s just a few, it’s probably a good idea to do an expectation audit to make sure your messaging across every single platform is aligned with the actual experience you’re capable of delivering.
It’s a great tool to look over and review all of your current materials and resources to make sure it’s all correct, aligned, and realistic for you in this business season. It’s actually super useful, especially if your business has grown recently, you’ve changed systems or you’ve brought on more team members or if it’s simply been a hot minute since you checked your autoresponder or contract.
So, when you start going through all your stuff, I want you to take a look at a few things first: your email responses and any email sequences or templates you’re using, your website, contracts, payment methods, social media links, paid advertisements, and any other written or verbal promises you’re communicating to customers.
Now, it’s a little bit different for everyone, because every business offers unique experiences, but essentially you want to make sure that you can deliver exactly what you’re telling clients you can deliver, and make sure that message is clear, communicated, and consistent everywhere.
Before you freak out thinking I’m about to add a lot more work to your plate, you can actually automate a lot of this with thoughtful email templates or by creating workflows that serve your clients — my favorite system for this is Honeybook and you can see how I do this and save 50%.
Honesty Not Defensiveness
So what happens when you really do mess up? When it’s time to redeem the situation or part ways or break up with a client who was maybe never the right fit in the first place? You’ve got to approach it with grace — and if you’re like me, sometimes we have to remove some of the emotion to be logical and results driven.
When there’s a situation that simply needs to be redeemed or settled, the first thing I remind myself — back from my retail days — is that the customer is usually right… notice, I didn’t say always, but usually and if I have an opportunity to serve them better and part ways, then I’m going to take that.
You’ve heard me say time and time again that time is my currency, not money and if I’m really going to live by that in every aspect of my life, then if I can exchange money to save time despairing over an unhappy person or someone who is causing me to spend time feeling crappy or emotional, then nine times out of ten, I’ll hand over the money to not waste another second in limbo, worried about the outcome.
If you can communicate from a place of honesty, not defensiveness, propose an action plan or a few options that they can choose from, and try your best to remove emotion and look at the situation as a business transaction, you can often come to a resolution quickly.
Redeem the Situation
First: Affirm the person and their concerns, repeat them back to them and say: I understand that you are feeling this way.
Next: Give them options and share them. “I want to serve you as best I can, so I’ve created a few options that I’d love to propose to help,” and then share a few different options for them to choose from leaving the ball in their court.
Finally: Give them an opportunity to further communicate and be kind. Welcome that feedback in and let them know that you can be reached and are happy to connect to see if you can find a resolution that feels fair to everyone.
Sometimes it looks like parting ways, sometimes it looks like accepting fault, sometimes it looks like eating costs — it’s not always pretty but no one said that chasing your dreams would be right? So when it’s time to redeem the situation, try to remove your defensiveness, have someone proofread your words before hitting send, and walk through the exercise of what story you’re telling yourself vs. the actual reality of the situation at hand.
My refund philosophy
What do you do when someone is disappointed enough to ask for their money back? Do you just act like it’s hush money, hand over the mullah, and pray they won’t bash their bad experience with your business all over the internet? Or do you just have a no refund policy because, if they’re confident enough in your stuff to hand over their credit card, then there’s no going back for them?
Because of my full-throttle belief in our offerings, I do offer a 100% money back guarantee if someone is dissatisfied with a product they get from me. And honestly, I don’t think of getting a refund request as a BAD thing. I listened to a podcast once by James Wedmore all about reframing the refund process and it was so helpful for me.
Essentially James talk about the fact that if you’re not getting any refund requests it’s likely because you’re not casting your net wide enough to really reach ALL of the people you can impact with what you’ve created. If you’re getting a refund request here or there, it’s actually a positive chance to gather feedback and to know that your message is reaching even those who might not be the exact perfect fit for what you’ve created — and that’s okay, that’s actually a good thing.
For reference point, our business has a less than 1% refund rate on our programs — that’s how confident I am in delivering on the promise and how powerful they are but instead of being angry or ashamed or defensive about that 1%, we’re taking the opportunity to glean insight and feedback that can help us show up and serve better.
More people equals a greater chance of disappointing a few, but it’s also a chance to help way, way more. And those are odds that, if you ask me, are worth risking. Trust me, at the volume we produce and deliver at, we’ve gotten plenty in our day! I don’t consider it a negative if it’s a considerably small percentage, I mean, 1%? Not bad. Like, if you’re not getting ANY refund requests, you’re likely not casting your net wide enough. If you get one or two, it’s a chance to get feedback and evaluate how you could adjust those expectations we just talked all about. And truthfully, sometimes it’s just not a right fit and that’s okay, too!
Press play on the episode above for a deeper dive into our refund policy and strategy. It involves corresponding with our amazing email inbox master Steph and even hopping on a phone call with my assistant, Caitlyn. Go listen right now!
Protect yourself if you need to
It’s important to be honest with yourself about what that kind of feedback or criticism will do to you and if it will cripple you or crush you, then you want to create some sort of plan or system to try and insulate yourself from that as best as you can.
I give my team my full permission to take care of our clients how they see fit, to treat my business as their own, and if someone sends something that isn’t actual feedback but just straight up criticism that isn’t constructive, I ask to be protected from that because it can do a number on my heart. So level with yourself on where you’re at in terms of being able to handle something like a refund request and then determine what sort of system will allow you to still glean the insight without letting criticism derail you entirely.
There are ways to structure how you receive the feedback to protect yourself. We ALL know negative feedback is inevitable, but maybe you have a team member who can process refunds or help craft diplomatic responses to fired up clients. I have more in this episode about specific language you can use on your website to protect yourself from feedback that may impact your mindset and more. Press play!
The Big Picture
I know there’s a lot to unpack when it comes to dealing with negative feedback about our businesses. It’s not just some easy, breezy topic that we can waltz through effortlessly — criticism and harsh words can cut deep, especially when it comes to such prized things as these brands and businesses we’ve nurtured and grown from literally nothing.
But whether you need to take a look at the expectations you’re communicating to clients, review the way you approach refunds, or find a way to protect your heart a bit from the nastier commentary — I give you full permission to move forward with those shifts confidently and with the knowledge that we’re all only human. We’ll mess up, backslide, and not always make the right choices or communicate perfectly. And that is okay, as long as you’re still willing to grow, improve, and do the best you can going forward. And knowing you, friend, I am certain that you’ll do just that.