Dealing with Online Reviews

Let’s face it, the reality is that an ever-increasing number of customers are finding businesses online. If you aren’t online (with a good site), you are already behind.

The point of this article is to discuss one of the key aspects of putting your business online: reviews.

Have you claimed your Business Profile?

Customers have a myriad of channels to share their experiences on. If you are not yet set up, I would recommend getting yourself set up as the ‘Owner’ of your business account on Facebook, Google Plus, Yelp, CitySearch, BBB and any other sites specific to your industry.

Customers love their reviews. And recently, online reviews have become as important as word of mouth (though it varies by industry). Think of reviews like getting positive recommendations from prior employers on your resume. A good review can be priceless, attracting new customers to your business and creating a favorable presence online. Heck, there are services out there that offer review harvesting! Reviews are important!

Unfortunately every review will not be a good one.

At some point in time, your business will get a bad review. A really bad review. An Oscar award winning screenplay of a bad review, so vile and pusillanimous that you jump to give them a piece of your mind. You want to SUE! You want to attack! And sadly, whether you are right or wrong, you will wind up making a fool of yourself.

Don’t let one bad review be the death of your business.

How Not to Deal with Bad Reviews

Have you heard of Amy’s Baking Company? The (note the tense) former Arizona bakery and café became immortalized through a combination of social media and reality tv, garnering a Forbes article on how not to use social media. Ouch.

The problem was that the company replied to their negative reviews rather angrily, resorting to ad hominem attacks on the reviewers and using exceptionally lewd language. Appearing on television only worsened the situation, ensuring the business received thousands of reviews on Yelp, Google and Facebook ranging from scathing to comedic. The business has since closed.

Dealing with Bad Reviews

Now are we saying that this will happen to your business? Its unlikely something so extreme would happen. However we have laid out some simple steps to properly respond to online reviews.

  • Monitor. As previously stated, set up your Business accounts for online review sites. Check them regularly! A bad review can sit there unchecked and make your online presence appear lackadaisical.
  • Breathe. The first step to dealing with bad reviews is not to reply immediately. Think about your plan to respond. Replying out of anger will only make a fool of yourself and your business.
  • Verify. Confirm that this is in fact the right review of your business. Is the review well written, or a poorly spelled attack on both your business and grammar? If employees are mentioned, ask them for their side of the story. Make sure you know all sides of the story before responding.
  • But what if the review is of the wrong business?
  • Good question! Oddly enough, reviews of the wrong business do happen. In this case contact the consumer directly to notify them of the error. If the review remains up, reply to it noting this disparity.
  • Respond. Do not attack or insult the customer, no matter how tempting. Those stories may be funny to read about, but they are less funny when your livelihood is involved. Keep your answer short and simple. No one wants to read an essay. Acknowledge the problem or mistake, apologize, offer to fix it and offer a next step (usually a number to call). Keep in mind this is a public response! Use it as an opportunity to show your finesse.
  • Learn. If you feel that it has validity, look into the complaint. Use this experience to set up a precedent for responding to bad reviews. Teach your employees how to deal with bad reviews.
  • Lawsuits Rarely Make Sense for a Bad Review

    Can I sue them?

    Tempting as it is to pick up the phone and call your business attorney, know that defamation cases are (usually) very hard to prove. People are entitled to their opinions and there is a First Amendment protection relating to public speech. Even assuming a negative review has clear falsehoods that can be proven, you still have to prove damages. You have to explicitly prove that the bad review has negatively impacted your bottom line in some way. Courts almost never award speculative damages and defamation cases are often (by their very nature) speculative. You will end up spending a lot of money with attorneys, working towards achieving a very uncertain result.

    Every situation is different, but it’s not uncommon for our small business attorneys to tell clients that their money would be better spent following the recommendations in this article for such issues, versus spending their money on a lawsuit. Please see our article on bad review lawsuits for more information.

    In Conclusion

    Remember that a bad review, while detrimental and disheartening, is not the end of the world. With proper handling, a bad review can turn into an opportunity.

    Law 4 Small Business. A little law now can save a lot later.

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