How to deal with negative feedback

Hazel Merlino is one of our Virgin StartUp ambassadors and the founder of Rainbow Factory, a storybook-themed children's play centre based in Leeds. In this blog she talks about how to handle negative feedback when you're starting up.

At Rainbow Factory we’ve only been open for a few weeks - but what a few weeks they've been!

I spent 10 years working in marketing across the south of the UK; Bristol, Southampton, and a large stint in London. As a Marketing Director, I thought I could handle all criticism. Well, it turns out that when it’s your business being criticised - the business you've worked so tirelessly at - a single person can reduce you to tears.

They don’t know all your challenges, and they have no idea who you are or what you’ve given up to open a business. All they care about is themselves – and rightfully so. You’ve offered a service, they’ve paid you money (hard-earned money), so they have every right to have an opinion.

But their opinion might not just be shared at home with a partner or family member of theirs. Nowadays negative feedback can be shared across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in the playground with other parents. You're no longer in control – they are!

So what do you do to limit damage? Well, you respond of course. You address all their points with honesty and sincerity, and you never, ever attack them. Treat them with utter respect, treat them as though they have spent their entire weeks' earnings on your business, and treat them as though you want to turn it around and get them to come back - or at least give you another go. Yes, it’s hard to do, and yes, you want to scream, shout, cry and delete the post – but whatever you do, don’t!

On our first day, after a hellish week in the lead up, a customer caused a scene – and not only made my sister (who I am very protective of!) cry, but also made others, who were queuing up to get in, turn around and walk back out. Her points were valid, and we listened, quickly adjusted, and by day three of opening we had completely changed the structure and business model. Ever since, we have received five star reviews. What we didn’t anticipate was the social media impact.

She didn’t know that we had listened and taken her points on board, and although we gave her a refund and asked that she give us a second chance, she went to town on us all over Facebook. But we responded to every post, causing her to her realise that we’re human and not some overly corporate business that doesn’t care about our customers. We’re still waiting for her to return – and we really hope she will one day.

Furthermore, last week we received a one star review on Facebook. We replied with genuine concern and suggestions for rectifying it - and later that afternoon the review was deleted. That wasn’t our aim; our genuine, honest nature and dedication for our customers is our focus.

My advice is to never worry - as long as you genuinely have the customer's best interest at heart and you listen, and adapt accordingly (remember though that you can’t please everyone), the five star reviews will flock in.

In 11 weeks we have had 66 review - 61 five stars, three four stars, one three star and one two star, plus 2000 likes and copious amounts of very touching emails and posts to our Facebook page. Below is one I would like to share with you. Remember that it's important to not focus too much on the negative feedback, because those that have given you the five star reviews matter too – they’re reminding you of all the reasons why you’re in business.

“Thanks so much for a brilliant afternoon at The Rainbow Factory today. My daughter Milly (5) has only been out of hospital just over a week after being very poorly and being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She has really struggled to come to terms with it and this afternoon your wonderful staff helped her to escape into a world of stories where she laughed and played despite two hypos (low glucose levels). You even watched her blood pricks and insulin and praised her for being so brave. Thank you, thank you. I can't tell you how much she needed the afternoon of magic you delivered, and how much I needed to share it with her.”


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