Responding to Negative Online Reviews
Review sites like Yelp provide customers a way to share their feelings with fellow consumers and the businesses they’re reviewing, and business owners need to monitor them to protect and e nhance their brand reputations. They should not only express appreciation to happycustomers but respond quickly and civilly to those who are not.
A survey by ReviewTrackers found more than half of customers (52%) expect to hear back from those whom they review within a week’s time, with 21% expecting a response within 24 hours. More than three-quarters (78%) said that they believe a business cares more about them if they see management responding to online reviews.
When responding to such reviews, business owners need to keep in mind the fact that they’re doing so in a very public forum. They first need to understand whether the complaint in question is valid, and if it is, attempt to take the conversation “offline” to e-mail, chat or phone to resolve it so your dirty laundry is not hung out for all to see. If you’re able to resolve a complaint “offline,” return online at that point to thank the customer and thus let other readers know that you reached a resolution satisfactory to all parties—i.e., your laundry is now clean.
In any case, business owners should respond both proactively and carefully, validating the person’s emotions even if they’re wrong on the facts, taking accountability when appropriate and taking the high road no matter how low the customer has gone. To that end, it can sometimes help to wait to send a response until you have cooled off, and possibly have a trusted friend or colleague read it before sending. But don’t wait too long, either.
In addition to not responding too quickly, publicly or defensively, business owners should not rely on either an automated response—which can be timely but also off-key depending on the situation—or on a 21-year-old marketing intern, for much the same reasons. And it’s also not a good idea to publicly broadcast that you’ve provided a solution in search of a problem—greasing squeaky wheels in the public eye can encourage everyone to complain publicly, whether or not they have a valid beef.
Then there’s the legal option, which owners and service providers might want to turn to if they believe an online review constitutes defamation. The Free Dictionary online defines defamation thusly: Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.
The future of this path hinges in part on an Ohio plastic surgeon named Bahman Guyuron, who filed a defamation lawsuit against a former patient, scheduled to go to trial next February in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Experts say the case could be precedent-setting, at least for the medical field The former chair of plastic surgery at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Guyuron took the most aggressive tack available and sued Chicago resident Marisa User for unspecified damages in 2015 after she posted anonymous, negative reviews of him. User alleged that Guyuron had operated on her to ease nasal congestion and modestly improve the cosmetics of her nose, but that he had actually worsened her breathing problems and made her nose wider and less attractive.
During a deposition, Guyuron responded by saying that User exaggerated the negative impact of the surgery and made false statements that he had guaranteed a given result and provided poor follow-up care. Most such lawsuits are settled quickly and quietly; what makes Guyuron’s lawsuit noteworthy is that it could proceed to trial.
Business owners need to be careful in addressing negative reviews. Filing suit is an extreme example of what can be done in egregious circumstances, but the best course of action is to be respective and respond in a courteous way that demonstrates your professionalism.