“Your company sucks!” The value of negative feedback

By Renae Gregoire | Customer experience

Jan 21
Frustration ahead! Confessions of a freelance marketing writer.

Have you ever been swayed by a company’s testimonials? 

You know, those customer statements that tell you why you should buy? 

As a prospect, you read through the glowing testimonials thinking, “Gee, if all these people were happy, then maybe I will be, too!”​ 

Trouble is, no company willingly publishes negative testimonials. Amazon and Yelp aside, could you imagine reading statements like these on a company’s website, or in its marketing collateral?​ 

I’m sorry I wasted my money. Your product is worthless and I would not recommend it to my worst enemy.

You just didn’t do what you promised. Can I have a refund?

Although you finally delivered, I’m disappointed in all the broken promises and the fact that it took you six months—when it should have taken one.

You know what? Part of me thinks that — maybe, just maybe — companies ought to share negative comments about their products or services. Sounds crazy, I know, but you’ll understand where I’m coming from soon. 

Bearing my soul : Bombs from this marketing copywriter​

Why in the world would I tell you about my clients’ negative experiences with me? Here’s why: Because for each negative experience, I learned a valuable lesson about which clients I should engage, and which I should decline. 

These are lessons you can use in your business, too.​ 

To be honest, I haven’t had many negative experiences. I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of pieces for hundreds of clients, and can count on one hand the number of people who’ve been dissatisfied. Granted, the number may be higher. I suppose that if I do have unknown unhappy customers out there, they’d share certain characteristics with the unhappy customers who let me know they were dissatisfied.​ 

Over the next several blog posts, I'll share a few of my client bombs. We'll see what you can learn from my mistakes. Customer names have been changed for what soon will be obvious reasons.​ 

Unhappy customer #1: New food retail concept

A vendor who did work for my company referred this client to me. She needed web copy for her new company’s website. Now her idea was, at the time, a new concept—there was nothing like it in her market. After she told me about it, and after I read what she had written, I didn’t think I could do the job. 

Why? Because as a prospective customer myself, I had way too many objections. And I didn’t see how she could overcome them. Still, I did my job and played devil’s advocate. After the client responded to every one of my objections, I actually became sold on the concept myself. And once I’m sold, I can sell others.​ 

So I wrote the content, and sent the first draft along. Apparently, it didn’t meet her expectations. I received a call from her business partner, who told me that they’d rather do the writing themselves. The partner didn’t come right out and say that they didn’t like my work; she told me instead that it would be easier for them to write the content themselves rather than to go back and forth with me when they had a very clear idea of what they wanted. Oh–she also said they were “very particular.” 

“No problem,” I said. “Just disregard my invoice for the balance, and best wishes to you!”​ 

But you know what? I sensed that something like this might happen. And I should have paid attention to my intuition, sparked by the facts that:​ 

  • The client never reviewed my writing style or writing philosophy; someone told her she needed a copywriter, recommended me, and that was that.​ 
  • Although I sent several requests for clarification, the client was never clear about what she wanted. I also asked to see the website template so I’d know how much copy to write. The template never arrived. I was, in essence, writing blind. I still did the best I could; I still wrote clear, concise, and persuasive copy as if I were promoting my own business. 
  • Phone conversations with the client were surprisingly brief and abrupt; I never felt I had the time to really dive down into what, exactly, she wanted. 

Lessons learned : Trust your gut, clarify, and set expectations

What did I learn? First, I will never take on another client who has not read at least a few pages of my work and who does not understand my writing philosophy. Second, even if I’m up against a contractual deadline, I will not attempt a first draft unless I have all the information I need. Third--and most important--if I don’t feel comfortable with a prospect on the phone, for whatever reason, I won’t feel comfortable doing the job. 

What can you take away from my experience? First, and this is especially true for service providers, if you don’t feel–or can’t seem to make–a connection with your prospect, it’s okay to pass on the project. Otherwise, both of you may wind up unhappy. Truth of the matter is, we can’t please everyone. We’re best off selling to people we connect with, especially when what we’re selling is, essentially, ourselves.​ 

Second, don’t begin a project without probing and getting a clear picture of what your client expects. This is true for product sellers, too. My client was rather nebulous about what she needed, so I did what I always do—I wrote the copy as if I owned her business. If you sell products, you may find that what you’re selling is not exactly what the customer wants, needs, or expects. So, yeah, you may make a sale, but you wind up with either a return or an unhappy customer.​ 

Third, especially if you’re a service provider, make sure your prospect knows exactly what you’re going to do…and exactly what deliverables you plan to provide for their money. Don’t leave your customers guessing. If they’re going to get one hour’s worth of phone consults and a printout of their financials, let them know. They might be expecting more from you without you even knowing. They could be expecting that you’ll do something to help them increase their bottom line, or to provide ongoing tax guidance, which you’d find out by probing. If it turns out that IS the case, yet you neglect to probe, and if all you deliver is a printout of their financials at the end of the month, they will be unhappy.​ 

I've shared another boondoggle here, in part two of this three-part series.

You can find the third and final boondoggle here

Image courtesy of Stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net​


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About the Author

Renae Gregoire is a marketing writer, editor, critical thinker, obsessive questioner, and excellent-results deliverer. Although writing is her talent, empathy is her Super Power; she combines both into a potent formula for creating content experiences that lead more people to YES!

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[…] part one of this three-part series about the value of negative feedback, I talked about one particular instance where I wasn't able to satisfy a client, and why I think […]

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[…] instance in which I knew a project was wrong for me right from the start, but I pursued it anyway. In part one of the same three-part series, I talked about yet another instance when I was not able to satisfy a client, and why I think the […]

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