3 Insights You Can Pull Out of Bad Customer Reviews

By Matt Doyle, VP and Co-Founder of Excel Builders, a custom home builder.

Bad reviews are a serious matter for any business. They could be dangerous to your reputation, even when they are only passed through word-of-mouth. These days, they can live forever online. 

I build homes as a business, so when a single customer relationship falls apart, it can affect my team for an entire season– or even longer. It is worth it for me to do a deep dive on every bad review that happens. In doing so, I’ve learned that they can be highly informative. 

In this short guide, I’m going to cover three significant insights that you can pull out of bad reviews.

1. They Can Help You Identify Communication Breakdowns

Sometimes, you’ll be aware that a bad review is coming. It may be because you dropped the ball or because the customer simply didn’t understand the service. The reviews that really hurt, though, are the ones that come out of nowhere.

When these bad reviews happen, it’s often because the customer was left stranded. They may not have received an email reply to an important question they asked. They may have tried to call you, only to get a busy signal over and over.

Communication is essential to resolving any problem before it escalates, so you should act immediately if you ever receive a bad review because a customer couldn’t reach you. Review your policies, train your staff, update your contact information — whatever you need to do to make sure every customer can reach someone. 

2. They Can Help You Craft Better Messages About Your Services

Bad reviews can happen because the customer didn’t understand the service and, as a result, had unrealistic expectations about what was possible. 

In my home building industry, tension can happen when a client doesn’t understand the limits of building codes and zoning restrictions. It’s simply not possible for me to give them everything they want without violating safety standards or the law. Even if a client is angry about something that resulted from a misunderstanding, it can be an opportunity for you. 

Use these reviews as a guide to improve how you describe your services. You can’t assume that every client is going to be aware of the limits in your industry. Bad reviews like this can tell you where knowledge gaps exist so that you can explain your services better. 

3. They Can Help You Direct Your Training Resources

Sometimes, bad reviews happen because a client is angry about the treatment they received from one of your team members. If you have team members who are ever abusive to clients, a bad review may help you identify them. However, sometimes your team members are just limited by inexperience and inflexible guidelines.

You can use these bad reviews to learn where your training may be failing everyone. One common source of interaction complaints is clients who have to hear the hated phrase: “Hold on, let me transfer you.” 

This can happen when your team members don’t have the information they need to answer important questions. They may also not have the authority to make requested adjustments. Consider carefully how you can train your employees to provide more direct service in the future. Sometimes, it just takes trusting them more. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.