As a startup founder who knows that my company relies on satisfied users to thrive, I sometimes find myself worked up over negative reviews of our product or fired up customer service complaints. I know it is best not to take these reviews personally, but when you've poured time, energy and creativity into creating a product, such feedback can take on an outsized role in your view of the company's success; even when the vast majority of your users loves your service (we have an 86 percent NPS). But as anyone who has ever worked in customer service knows, some complaints are more credible than others. So too are rave reviews. So how can we discern whose feedback should be taken to heart and whose should be overlooked?

What do negative reviews really mean?

I like to look at 1-star reviews of pretty well-liked apps, just to see what the outliers say and have a bit of a laugh. Some of them just have remarkably high standards that no app will likely ever meet. Some are the result of category errors: a user who wanted a service or product to be something it never claimed. Others are misplaced blame: they give Etsy itself a one-star review because the seller sent the package late and the needlepoint was off-center. A 1-star review of Depop said that they were never allowed to post anything and it said, "Failed" which is an internet connectivity issue rather than an app glitch.

What do positive reviews really mean?

I usually then look to the 5-star reviews, especially when there are lots of them, to get an understanding of what fundamentally works about the product. But I'm not naïve enough to believe that all of those are 100 percent accurate either. Some people are just exuberant with praise because it is better than the last product they tried out. Others just hate to give anything but stellar reviews, bless them, really. And even if these reviews were especially helpful, my product isn't an app so it isn't on the App Store. So I occasionally succumb to that terrible but often enlightening human habit of Googling my product, the same way most people have done with their name to see if there are any surprises. It is from industry blogs and author product reviews I find that I've gleaned what people really think of my company, but it is by taking the extra step of seeing how their customers see them that I got my most important insights.

Learn about how your customers use your product and what their end goal is

A case in point is Barbara Gray, the author of Ubernomics, a book written after years of research about the rise of marketplaces. It currently has an average 5-star rating on Amazon. Barbara has spoken and written more than once about Reedsy to explain how she hired her developmental editor. She basically had two goals. She wanted to prove that marketplaces could make industries more efficient, so she wanted to go through a company whose business was facilitating what's historically been a lengthy and convoluted process. The second one was to use her book to grow her consulting service. So we made sure to connect her with an editor who had strong experience working on business books. She ended up landing reviews by influential business executives who run companies like Lululemon, the Boston Consulting Group or Thumbtack. Making that extra effort turned Barbara into an ambassador for our company.

Thriller writer Gledé Browne Kabongo is another Reedsy author whose fans are not mere enjoyers of her books. Their reviews are ecstatic in their praise of her use of suspense and character development to deliver thrills, with more than one noting that her book Game of Fear, a second in a series, went seamlessly from the first book to the second. She explained to us that she selected her editor based on the reactions to the earlier books in order to build out the narrative of the second. She looked for professionals in her genre and analyzed the reviews of the books they had edited. It was a way for her to make sure that she would find the right fit for her project and get the end product she initially envisioned. This led us to ask new professionals joining our community to create more complete portfolios, in an attempt to replicate her behavior among other users. After a few months user retention was up and we were lining up stories.

Listen to your customers' customers

Any brand whose product gives customers an opportunity to have customers of their own is an opportunity to find out how your users are taking advantage of your product's features. You don't need to dig that far to find out who your customers are selling to and how their customers are responding in turn to their service. Finding out which of your users best understand how to make your product work for them can be a gold mine for establishing best practices among your whole user base.

For those who refuse your encouragement to use features as best practices, don't take that too much to heart to lose them as customers. Chances are, they have no customers through your brand to miss them either.