Sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor encourage customers to post reviews of their experiences with businesses. These reviews matter.
According to one survey last year, 92% of customers read online reviews for local businesses. Of these, 40% form an opinion by reading just 1 to 3 reviews, and only 13% of consumers would use a business with a 1 or 2 star rating.
If you think the review is unfair, what’s the best way to respond? Here are some ideas.
Ask yourself whether your customer has a point. Remember, apologies are accepted.
Use the review to make improvements in your business. Use social media to acknowledge the customer’s viewpoint and post your progress on corrective action. As Winston Churchill said “criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Use the criticism wisely and you’ll profit from the experience.
Also reach out to the customer individually and offer to make amends. Hopefully, this unexpected gesture may induce the customer to post a follow-up — favorable — review.
Counter the reviews
What does one bad review mean if you’ve numerous good ones? Emphasize in social media postings your good reviews. Encourage customers to post good reviews by reaching out to those you are confident have been satisfied with your business.
Should you sue the person who posted a bad review? There’s a fine line between valid opinion, which is permissible, and unlawful conduct, which is not. For example, review sites may have a non-disparagement agreement that users must acknowledge. They may also prohibit competitors from writing bogus reviews. And customers are not permitted to make defamatory statements, which are false statements that harm the reputation of a business.
Businesses can take retaliatory action by suing for a bad review, but they may see their action backfire. Take the case in 2013 of a couple who sued a business that had disparaged his credit rating after he posted a negative online review. The customers claimed the company’s action violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act, defamed them, and inflicted emotional distress. The company claimed the customers violated the anti-disparagement clause of the site’s terms. The customers won, and were awarded more than $300,000 in damages.
The poor result for the business in this case has not discouraged other companies from taking legal action against customers who post poor reviews. Most recently, a couple who posted a one-star review of a pet service in Dallas was sued for over $1 million. While the action is still pending, the business has received more negative press because of the suit than it did from the one-star review.
As a result of the 2013 lawsuit, California enacted a law in 2014 to prohibit non-disparagement clauses. A bill introduced last year in Congress — the Consumer Review Freedom Act (S. 2044) — would do the same thing on the federal level. The measure passed the Senate last December. A similar measure introduced in the House hasn’t made any progress.
To paraphrase Lincoln, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and you should expect negative reviews from time to time. Weigh carefully your response. A misstep in your response can produce a poorer public perception than the bad review ever did.