The clerk handed me the receipt and pointed to instructions at the bottom. “Please fill out our customer survey,” she said, “but only if you have good things to say about our store. We don’t want to hear any negative comments,” she quipped, and then quickly added, “Remember – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!”

When I remarked that what she was proposing wasn’t a true customer survey at all, she frowned and said, “Good comments are the only thing that will keep this store open.”

Retail stores are facing immense challenges in an age of alternative shopping options. Encouraging customers always to paint a rosy picture, however, does a disservice to all – the business, the employee and the customer. Only good news may satisfy upper management or ownership for a time, but continued poor performance cannot remain hidden forever.

An authentic customer survey gleans insight into customer satisfaction and loyalty. It is the basis for building on successes as well as correcting problematic issues. Encouraging only the good news (or reviews) is not really good news at all when it veils the truth and creates a barrier to solving legitimate customer concerns.

Poor reviews, or less than stellar comments, can be tough to digest, but they also present the opportunity to show customers you are willing to improve and gain back their loyalty. Recently, a number of major retailers had to face unflattering issues and poor performances. What has made the difference to customers is when and how the issues were handled. Was the customer the first priority, or was the business concerned only with its own reputation?

The customer is ultimately the beneficiary of business improvements, but what about employees, managers and owners? A sound marketing plan, based on realistic pros and cons, not only increases revenue but encourages employees and management to work with customers from a strong platform of expectations. Employees of a lagging business may not be certain of their own future and it translates to everyday customer interactions. Managers, feeling the pressure of poor business performance, may easily transfer stress throughout an organization, and with serious consequences. Owners who ignore customer feedback do so at their own economic peril.

If you can learn from both positive and negative customer feedback, you have the opportunity to utilize the positive feedback for even more gains. Challenging issues can be caught early on and solved to increase customer satisfaction. But why is this so important? Doesn’t everyone expect some bad reviews and negative trolls? Shouldn’t negative comments and reviews just be ignored?

Customer feedback will not always be good news. As a business manager or owner, you execute your business plan with success as the goal. Understanding your operation gives you unique perspective to weed out senseless comments from those which are truly helpful. Encouraging only the good news, however, delivers a lopsided look at what is really happening with your business – where you are doing well and where you need to improve.

I’m sure the clerk mentioned was encouraging only good news to please her bosses and improve the company’s image. Good comments alone do not promote business success. Customer insight and feedback are powerful and informative measures of an operation’s success. You can enjoy the temporary glow of great comments, hoping those customers will become return buyers, or you can work toward providing the excellent customer service that legitimizes good news and reviews. This then is the basis for increasing revenue and building a truly loyal customer base.

The above information is provided for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional business and legal counseling. The author is a former agricultural business and marketing extension educator and agricultural economic development specialist.