No one enjoys negative feedback. I think we can agree on that bon mot if nothing else. Getting an earful from a customer (or reader in my case) is never a pleasant experience, because at the end of the day, it means you've made a mistake and now must fix it.

Yet Professor Jerry Osteryoung from the College of Business at Florida State University noted recently that it is this very feedback that provides a true “golden opportunity” if you will, to not only correct the error in question, but make significant improvements.

“Negative comments are the real nuggets since they give each entrepreneur new information about something that is not working in their business,” he explained. “Good and great comments from customers are wonderful to see but really do not add much new information, but they are great to receive.”

Negative comments are golden opportunities that you cannot afford to ignore for two reasons, in Osteryoung's view. “First, they give you the chance to correct a problem before it gets worse,” he said. “Second, these negative comments give you an opportunity to salvage the customer before they decide not to come back to your business. An upset customer that you can convert normally becomes a very strong supporter of your business.”

Osteryoung stressed, however, that you must be listening to what customers are saying and what they are doing to get that all-important feedback. One CEO of a bank, for example, purposely kept his office located to the side of the bank's main floor so he could see and hear what his customers were saying about his bank.

“By keeping the office close to the main floor, he was telling all of the bank's customers that he cared about their opinions and wanted their input, especially the negative comments,” Osteryoung pointed out.

Truckers, of course, don't need to do this. Drivers will hear these comments on the dock, while shippers and receivers lack little compunction in making scathing comments via emails, texts or phone calls.

I talked with Noël Perry, principal of research firm Transport Fundamentals and senior consultant with FTR Associates, about this recently, and he told me shippers consider trucking service “a failure” when their on-time delivery percentage is at 95% or less. Yet what truckers get for successfully achieving 95% on-time delivery or better these days is shrinking.

Consider this: According to investment firm Robert W. Baird & Co., TL and LTL rates have been in a virtual free-fall for years. Rates for TL carriers declined 2%, 1% and 5% in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively, while for their LTL brethren, rates fell 1%, 2% and 10% over the same three-year stretch.

Still, though, truckers soldier on. Although negative feedback is difficult to swallow, it's better than the most troubling customer action of all — simply leaving and not telling you what the problems are, choosing instead to tell their friends, relatives and peers about the failings they experienced.

“While these comments are difficult to capture, they are the most valuable,” said Osteryoung. “The best way to get this information is to go out of your way to contact customers who have not come back recently or those who might not have renewed a contract with your business.”

Osteryoung also noted that customer satisfaction surveys still remain a great way to solicit comments from those customers.