Dutch business theorist Arie de Geus wrote, "The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage." I believe one of the key ways businesses can do this is to really take customer feedback to heart.

Of course, this includes both positive and negative feedback. Acting on negative feedback is often quite straightforward, but how do you learn from and act on positive feedback and reviews?

This post will provide some practical ways to grow your business and remain competitive by monitoring and acting on all kinds of feedback.

1. Instead of patting yourself on the back, use positive feedback to boost strengths

When you receive positive feedback or reviews, it can be tempting to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. However, this strategy doesn't give you an opportunity to grow from your successes.

Instead, ask yourself, "How can we replicate this experience for all our customers?". The answer may be standardizing a process that's working well, boosting production of a particular product, or developing similar products or services that you know your customers will love.

2. Use negative feedback to increase loyalty and trust

When you first receive negative feedback, it can feel like a big blow to your pride. But when you respond properly to that feedback, you can actually turn it into an opportunity to shine.

"Service recovery paradox"- or SRP - is the idea that a customer can potentially think more highly of a company following a negative experience. Wikipedia defines SRP as "a situation in which a customer thinks more highly of a company after the company has corrected a problem with their service, compared to how he or she would regard the company if non-faulty service had been provided."

In other words, if you can respond to negative feedback in a way that adequately makes up for the mistake, you can actually achieve greater customer satisfaction than if you had met the customer's expectations the first time.

3. Turn positive comments into testimonials

Testimonials and case studies are marketing gold. They instill trust and reduce feelings of risk, and are an invaluable form of social proof.

And the use of testimonials shouldn't be reserved just for your testimonials page. They can be turned into case studies, providing even greater opportunity to showcase your business. You can also ask satisfied customers to offer video testimonials; some research suggests that landing pages that contain videos increase conversions by up to 86%.

4. Boost morale by sharing positive feedback

It's well known that employees who feel valued are more productive and experience greater job satisfaction. And sharing positive feedback with your staff is one of the best ways to make this happen.

According to Dr. Neal B. Burgess, verbal praise - preferably publicly - can go a long way toward boosting employee morale. He writes, "Your employees need to be motivated to do a great job. For this to be consistent, give your employees praise and appreciation. This should be done in front of others. Whether you give a personalized written note, a positive compliment, or another type of incentive, you need to give these to all employees to keep their motivation going."

5. Use negative feedback to improve your products or services

Most of us have to catch our breath when we receive negative reviews. However, negative feedback is unavoidable, and business owners should think of it as the norm rather than as the exception.

When you receive negative feedback, try to use the gold standard process for dealing with conflict: Listen carefully, don't get defensive, and ask for time. Then ask yourself what you can do better next time to avoid making the same mistake again.

6. Use negative feedback to motivate staff

While sharing positive feedback can help to inspire your staff, negative feedback can serve as a motivational tool. When done right, it can increase trust and transparency between employee and employee, while at the same time improving customer service.

Some things to keep in mind when delivering the bad news: give more positive feedback than negative; address behaviors, not personality traits; give your employee lots of time to respond to or address the criticism; come up with a plan together to avoid making the same mistake(s) in future.

7. Use your competitors' feedback to differentiate yourself

It's not only your own customer feedback that can help you improve your business. Paying attention to online feedback directed at your competitors can also have a big impact on your business.

I recommend using a tool like Brand24 to track mentions of your competitors' business and product names. While you won't respond to those mentions, you can use what you've learned to improve or differentiate your own products or services.

8. Respond to negative feedback ASAP

It may sound obvious, but the first step in acting on feedback is responding as soon as possible. This is particularly important when it comes to public online reviews (e.g., on Yelp, Google My Business, etc.).

Some general guidelines for responding effectively include: taking conflict offline as soon as possible (i.e., to email or private message); always being respectful; being empathetic to how your customers feel, and not being afraid to tell your side of the story.

9. Use feedback to improve your marketing

Sometimes negative feedback points to problems with your products or customer service. However, sometimes it can indicate an issue with how you're marketing or who you're marketing to.

You can have the best product that actually fills a need for your audience; but if you're getting it in front of the wrong audience, you'll never succeed. Before you assume your product is fundamentally flawed, ask yourself if those who are giving the feedback are really the audience you should be targeting.

Final thoughts

When you receive any kind of feedback, it's easy to focus on how it makes you feel - usually, this means either stewing about it or patting you on the back.

However, the key to growing through feedback is to act on it, putting both positive and negative feedback to work. The nine ideas above should give you a great place to start.

Feeling down about your negative reviews? Check out my post, Why Customer Complaints Are Good For Your Business.

How do you use customer feedback to improve your business?