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How to respond to criticism

  • 8 min read

Woman angry at computer photo for when to respond postLast time we shared ways to communicate bad news: specifically, when a team member tests positive for COVID-19. Which itself raised a number of questions, including:

What if our customers get angry?

Are we going to lose customers to our competitors?

What if they disagree with our handling of the situation?

Chances are your craft beverage brand has faced challenging customer feedback during the normal course of business, let alone during the pandemic when sensitivity is heightened. Yet when and how to respond is unclear to many craft beverage producers. Today we’ll discuss three distinct buckets of criticism and how to direct the conversation:

Market Your Craft barrel logo for mobile discoverability emailHow does managing criticism make your craft beverage brand more discoverable?

The goal should be to empower team members to quickly address concerns, protecting customer confidence in your business. While there is no guarantee everyone leaves satisfied, it works to open and close a dialogue while minimizing any customer confusion, or worse, damage to either party. A brand that promotes transparency and tackles the tough conversations earns the trust of new and existing customers. A good practice is to invest the time and effort equal to your potential risk. Every comment deserves a response; however, not all responses are created equal. We’ll show you the difference below.

negative feedback

It’s impossible not to be proud of your team’s efforts. After all, they were hand-picked to help bring your vision to life. Of course, it’s hard to hear when a customer has anything less than a stellar experience with your brand. Social media and other forums make it easy to provide feedback in real-time about a product, experience, team member or virtually any aspect of the business. Some highly-visible examples for craft beverage include:

  • Email
  • Associations or guilds
  • Local Chamber of Commerce
  • Community interest and action groups

Negative review photo for when to respond postQuickly responding to every comment, whether positive or negative, is important for connecting with drinkers. Don’t ignore the negative – you risk others jumping into the conversation and building negativity. Start by assessing and evaluating the feedback with your internal team to determine the right course of action. Be sincere with any apologies and don’t promise some resolution you can’t deliver. Try to take the conversation out of the public forum with direct messaging, email or even a phone call. Use a personalized response to explain your position and any actions taken. Own up to any mistakes and ask clarifying questions when the details aren’t clear.

Do this effectively and there will be minimal back-and-forth before the customer concern is addressed. And you may be surprised: quick handling of a challenging situation often generates favorable stories from brand fans and followers. And it’s the net-positive stories that help make your craft beverage brand more discoverable. Want to design a set of templates for quickly responding to most customer inquiries? Let’s talk about it!

business crisis

Winery closed photo for when to respond postA year into the global pandemic, the hospitality and service industries have been some of the hardest hit. Layoffs, shifting capacity guidelines and closures have forced tasting rooms to pivot nearly every aspect of their business. There’s no question the coronavirus has thrown everyone into crisis mode. However, many businesses are also dealing with the everyday crises in the course of normal operations: product shortages, tasting room incidents, voluntary or mandatory recalls, bad behavior, negative publicity and business loss. These require an even greater investment of time and energy to address on social and other channels:

  • First, take a breath: before you react, take a minute to assess the situation and collect whatever data you can.
  • Pause all communications: from tasting room to customer service, all outbound dialogue should stop long enough for those communicating to be briefed on the situation and the appropriate response.
  • Address the issue directly: acknowledge you are aware of an issue where new of the crisis first surfaced (i.e. Twitter). Use a prepared post to state the facts and reiterate your commitment to addressing the issue in a timely manner.
  • Enable self-service tools: where possible, allow customers access to as much information as you have available BEFORE they ask for it.
  • Consider changing your profile and cover images: help social media users quickly identify visually that there has been some operational change in the way you do business.
  • Give customers an outlet…to a point: it’s okay for fans and followers to use your social media channels to vent. Try to limit yourself to responding twice publicly before taking the message private/off-wall to address ongoing concerns or rants.
  • Build a community of partners: teaming up with other businesses impacted by the issue can have a synergistic effect. Yes, there can be strength and solidarity even in the highly-competitive craft beverage industry.
  • Document and archive: for learning and potentially legal purposes, be sure to document and archive all communications during this time.

Best to think through a number of what-if scenarios in advance of needing to communicate. Why? Because when it does happen you won’t have the luxury of time to thoughtfully plan a response. You’ll be in reaction mode, and depending on the scope of impact you could be addressing team members, distributors, retailers, partners and possibly customers within hours of assessing the situation. Tensions are high and keeping on-point is crucial to getting through the challenge while minimizing the overall brand and business damage. For more best practices, read our publication titled, “Tips for Crisis Management on Social Media.”


End violence photo for when to respond postIn addition to a global pandemic, 2020 witnessed a change in the conversation about race, justice, diversity, equality and inclusion. A discussion on the tools needed to respond to backlash would be incomplete without addressing the idea of microaggression. Introduced in the 1970s by Chester M. Pierce, Harvard psychiatrist, our modern-day definition of “microaggression” can be credited to Derald Wing Sue, a professor of counseling psychology at Columbia University (Yoon, 2020):

“The everyday slights, indignities, put-downs and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way.”

In the workplace, on social media and other public forums, people and the businesses they represent are increasingly being censured for acts of insensitivity to race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion. These incidents can be either accidental or purposeful, both delivering compounding damage to the recipient or group. It cannot be understated how important it for your craft beverage brand to quickly address any feedback – whether from employees, partners or customers – that feels like microaggression being called out in public. In these scenarios, use a similar framework and urgency as you would a business crisis, with added sensitivity to tone and empathy statements (Ella F. Washington, 2020). Tamaan Wilkinson, professional business coach, suggests the following when responding (Blumenfeld, 2020):

  • Don’t say, “I know what you’re feeling,” if you’re outside the target of the microaggression.
  • Don’t try to diffuse or solve the situation, as it will appear patronizing.
  • Acknowledge your discomfort talking about sensitive topics like racism.
  • Pause any other thoughts, and fully engage the individual or audience.
  • Don’t offer advice, just listen.

After responding quickly, ask to take the conversation private to personally address their needs. If further clarification is needed to resolve the situation, ask probing questions like, “I really don’t know what this feels like, could you tell me?” And once you’ve rooted out the core issue, learn from any mistakes and share with the rest of the organization. Having the uncomfortable conversations begins the healing process and restores faith in your craft beverage business.

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