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How Not to Handle Negative Reviews

A Lesson in Review Management

Businesses of all types rely on reviews to build credibility with potential customers as well as to increase online visibility. Positive reviews on sites such as Yelp and Yellow Pages can greatly impact sales. Negative ones however, can have the opposite effect. So whenever a negative review appears, business operators naturally want to minimize the damage to protect their income stream and their consumer reputation. However, it is possible to go too far in managing a negative review. A recent incident involving a New York City area watch repair shop illustrates what can happen if a business owner gets too aggressive in protecting his reputation.

When a dissatisfied customer posted a two-star rating for the watch repair shop on Yelp, the business owner was so upset that he engaged his attorney to threaten a defamation lawsuit unless the customer pulled down his comments. Naturally, the customer, who wasn’t feeling much in the way of brand loyalty to the repair shop anyway, reacted even more negatively – and more publicly.

Unfortunately for the watch repair shop, threatening legal action only made matters worse – much worse. Believing his first amendment rights protected his speech, the customer refused to pull down the Yelp review. Further, after being threatened with a lawsuit for expressing his opinion, the customer took the entire situation public via social media, using the name of the watch shop and its owner.  By threatening a lawsuit, the watch shop owner effectively converted a single negative review into an avalanche of negative publicity.  The negative publicity from the lawsuit threat far exceeded the damage done by one negative Yelp review. Local television even got into the act, airing a news story about the incident.

The business owner appears to have little legal justification for legal action. If the experience was presented in an honest fashion, the review opinion and speech appears fully protected. Attempting to suppress opinion is almost always poorly received. The alleged victims in these cases tend to receive additional exposure for their points of view and the business owners are often perceived as “bullys” or worse.

Manage the Communication and Manage the Visibility
So how then should one handle a negative review? Three simple points can keep the business owner out of hot water when a negative review appears.

    • Responding in the communication channel that the reviewer used enables your participation in the discussion. Yelp or other networks usually allow for a business response to negative reviews. So, try to keep the conversation in the channel in which it first appeared. Allowing it to expand into other social channels means that you might not be able to participate in the discussion to hold up your point of view.
    • Trusting customers to be analytical and fair in their evaluation of reviews can be difficult – even when one doesn’t agree with the conclusion. Most customers understand that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. But.. if the business owner appears to make every effort to set things right, that will go a long way in diffusing anger and containing any reputation damage.
    • Acknowledging that the customer may have had a poor experience can also go a long way to repair damage. Customers at least like to know they’ve been heard.

Using social and review channels to show that you are doing everything reasonably possible to make the situation right with each customer can turn a negative review situation into something perhaps not-so-negative. Each consumer is a brand ambassador whose opinions are important to future customers. Social media and review channels enable each customer/brand ambassador to impact the visibility of almost any organization.

Matthew Stone operates Denver SEO Consultants, LLC – an online internet marketing firm.