Thickening the Skin of Your Small Business

by Marissa Gandelman, LMT, and owner of Elm City Wellness

“The facial I received was horrible.”

This came from a recent Yelp review of my business, a wellness center, where 98% of our reviews are 5 stars. This 1-star detailed commentary of her horrific experience at the place I love and built with my bare hands felt like a punch in the gut. 

Laying in bed that night, my thoughts consumed me:

I should close my business, I’m clearly not meant to be doing this for a living. (Not true.)

I should fire the esthetician. She’s clearly not capable of doing this work. (Not true.)

I failed. (NOT TRUE.)

I need to make this right. (TRUE.) 

Ok. It was time to step into my tougher skin and learn from this and, by hook or by crook, dammit, I will. 

Small business owners and entrepreneurs tend to take EVERYTHING about their businesses personally, and I’m no different. These dissenters weren’t with us when we were putting in 18-hour days at the office, taking on every role as office manager, Website developer, marketing director, cleaning crew, and, in my case, massage therapist. How dare they criticize us. Don’t they realize what we’ve gone through to build this?

No, they don’t. And that’s OK. They don’t have to know. This is YOUR business, and it’s your job to run it well. And, as much as it may hurt your ego, you NEED their feedback to do this right.

Reviews of our businesses  — good or bad — can and will grow your business for the better if you learn how to turn seemingly negative experiences into opportunities to shine. 

But I’ll admit, I still sink into slight a funk when someone says something negative about my business -- especially on social media -- and there will always be a few. Let me be clear though: This doesn’t happen often and if it did, I’d need to assess much more than one review.

Here are a few ways I’ve learned how to thicken my skin and grow my business in the process.

Have compassion. If someone has a negative experience with your business — so horrible that they felt the need to air it publicly, they must be pretty upset. Acknowledge that. Put yourself in their shoes and FEEL what they might be feeling. Anger? Frustration? In search of resolution?

Have you set up a business that welcomes feedback? Our clients generally feel comfortable emailing, calling or telling us in person about their experiences at our office. We take them very seriously and implement new policies/practices/procedures many times as a result. But when a negative review pops up, it's an opportunity to look at our process. We realized that maybe not everyone knows how much we appreciate and proactively respond to ALL feedback and perhaps we should revisit how we convey this message.

Don’t jump to conclusions. If you assume anything, your emotions will get the best of you. Instead, gather as much information as you can about the situation. What can you learn about the client? Reviews are often left anonymously, so this may be difficult to do, but a little online sleuthing can uncover more than you think. 

I stand behind my staff 100% and I trust that their actions are always for the benefit of the client. I wouldn’t have hired them if I felt otherwise. But do you know how your staff REALLY communicates with each client? Perhaps there’s been a miscommunication that needs clarifying.

I spoke to our office manager, who looked into the booking (Was this a new client? Was she referred by someone?), and then I spoke to our esthetician, who did her best to remember the appointment (it occurred a few weeks ago). We narrowed down to whom we thought it was (the reviewer’s name was an abbreviation of her real name) and attempted to reconstruct the session to figure out where (or if) we went wrong. 

Take ownership and APOLOGIZE. Sincerely. This is the toughest skin layering of all. We all have egos, but when we don’t take responsibility for our business and the actions of the people who work for us, we appear cocky, arrogant and, worst of all, unapproachable to our customers. 

Write a response to a bad review. If you think there was a miscommunication, or if the details of a service you offer wasn’t properly conveyed, explain that, fix it in your protocols at the office AND APOLOGIZE to the client for the occurrence. A sincere apology will go a long way in a world dominated by technology and minimal human contact. It will allow your humanness to shine through.

The chances of getting the reviewer to retract or return as a client is slim, but that’s only a small piece of the puzzle. How well you write your review and take ownership of a problem shows prospective clients who read these reviews how professional you are and how much you care. I firmly believe that a well-written response to a 1-star review could get you more business than a gushing, 5-star review.

And, if the situation calls for it, refund your customer. We don’t hesitate to refund a client who wasn’t a “fit” for our business — for whatever reason. And, as a result, we rarely have to do it. It may seem paradoxical, but it’s true. It may bruise our pride a little, but the act of fixing a problem takes the attention away from our hurt feelings it focuses on what’s really important: The Business.

Humility has been a key factor to our success. Admit when something isn’t working properly and seek solutions to fix it. Believe in yourself and your business and open yourself to receive ALL feedback. The more you do, the more you’ll grow. And so will your business. And so will your thicker skin.