by Eric Moeller
It was Elon Musk’s TED talk which made me see negative feedback in a new light. In an onstage chat with TED’s Chris Anderson, Musk’s advice was to, “Pay attention to negative feedback, and solicit it, particularly from friends.” Considering his levels of success, I think it’s a fair conclusion to say it’s advice worth listening to!
Why Negative Feedback Is Valuable
It’s human nature to avoid things that are painful. Receiving negative feedback can be an uncomfortable experience, but putting our egos aside, it can be one of the best things to facilitate our improvement. Whether it’s for your product or for your business as a whole, you need to seek out and embrace negative feedback.
Negative feedback helps shine a light on problems with your product or business which you may not see, or may be consciously or unconsciously avoiding. If you’re familiar with the expression “fail fast, fail often,” seeking negative feedback can help you figure out where you might be failing so you can address it and move on quickly.
How To Seek Out Negative Feedback
It’s usually not as easy as asking people, “do you have any negative feedback?” If pressed for feedback, a lot of people will try to avoid an uncomfortable situation and tell you they like it (your product, your company, you, etc.). But what you want – actually, need – is their negative feedback.
To get negative feedback, you will need to lead them with questions, which will better reveal what the issues may be. Here are some examples you could use:
- What do you dislike about the product?
- How could the product be improved?
- What would you like the product to do that it can’t?
- Was the product difficult to use? If so, what were the challenges?
- Are there similar products you can think of that you think are better? If yes, what are they, and why do you feel they’re better?
- How well did our company understand your needs?
Reach out to those people in your life who always tell it like it is. Depending on what sort of feedback you’re looking for, it could make sense to ask a friend or family member (if they’ve had contact with your product or business), or you may need to contact an existing customer.
If you’re asking for negative feedback from a spouse or family member who doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, you can even preface these questions with “…if you didn’t know me…” Emphasize the fact that their negative feedback, whatever it may be, is what you truly need from them.
It’s normal to be nervous or uncomfortable when asking for negative feedback. The key thing is to not take it personally. With practice it gets easier to hear negative feedback, and once you learn to take the negative feedback more readily, the faster you’ll evolve and improve from it.
How To Use Negative Feedback
Great, you’ve asked for negative feedback, you received it, now what do you do with it? The thing about negative feedback is that some of it will be valuable, and some of it will be rubbish. You need to go through it and figure out which type you have.
To vet the feedback, you should consider who delivered it. Did the negative feedback come from someone who is normally very objective, or did it come from a cynical old grouch (sorry, couldn’t resist)? If someone who is usually objective gave negative feedback, you should take it seriously and be grateful for it.
If a tougher critic gave negative feedback, and may have already given other negative feedback in the past, it would be useful to find out what products or businesses they do like. Knowing what they actually like will give you a better sense of whether you could ever satisfy their needs. There may be a disconnect between what that customer expects, and the segment of the market you’re targeting.
With all negative feedback you receive, and decide is warranted, you will need to prioritize it and decide how best to proceed. For some of the negative feedback, you may even want to validate it further with others you trust. If heads start nodding in agreement regarding the negative feedback, it would be a mistake to dismiss or ignore it. If you keep receiving the same feedback over and over, there may be some truth to it.
What About Positive Feedback?
Of course, positive feedback can be helpful as well, to better understand what customers like about your product. You may find they like things other than what you’d expect. But beyond this, positive feedback can unintentionally lull a business owner into a false sense of security, that everything is fine as is. As nice as it is to hear positive feedback, it’s the negative feedback we need to challenge us, helping us achieve better things as entrepreneurs.
Eric Moeller writes at Copy Dojo, where he shares sales copywriting and marketing insights to help entrepreneurs and small businesses rapidly grow their business. For new ideas to help you sell with less effort and build customer loyalty, join his free newsletter and receive his free Copywriting Planning Guide.
Raul | Courtesy of Eric Moeller