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How to Handle a Bad Online Review

Part 1: Thinking before you act

You run a small business. You have a social media presence with some followers, but you’re not a celebrity with millions of people following your accounts. Your business has a page on a few consumer review sites, like Yelp! or Google Reviews or TripAdvisor. You have a dozen, a few dozen, or a few hundred reviews, not thousands and thousands of them. Your reviews are generally positive, which makes sense because you work hard to ensure your customers have positive experiences and a high level of satisfaction.

So when you see a scathing, one-star review, you’re taken aback. You may be angry or feel attacked. You may be worried about whether anyone else has seen the review and if it’s going to affect your business. What do you do?

There are a number of things to consider before you respond or take any other action. As tempting as it can be to take immediate steps to combat a negative online review, it is important to act thoughtfully and strategically. Before deciding on a course of action, think through the situation.

Step 1: Step back. Walk away. Take a breath.

Do not respond to a review in the heat of the moment, no matter how unfair the review is or how ridiculous it is. Talk with your business partners or staff; consult with an attorney; vent to your family, but do not respond to the review until you have had some time to cool off. The person who wrote the review may have acted rashly in a moment of frustration, don’t respond in the same way.

Step 2: Try to find out who wrote the review.

After you’ve had a chance to cool off, look back at the review and see if you can identify whether it came from a legitimate customer or someone who interacted with your business.

Does the name sound familiar?

Because many reviewers post anonymously or under fake names, don’t stop at the name. Read through the review. Do the events described in the review sound familiar to you or your staff?

If the review does not appear to be from someone who has done business with you, who else might have posted it?

It is not unheard of for competitors to attempt to sabotage one another through fake reviews. Is there evidence one of your competitors did it?

Does it seem like a personal attack? Unfortunately, sometimes people with a personal grudge against you or someone who works with you use review sites to cause harm.

Does it sound like the reviewer might be confused? Maybe your business has a name that is similar to another business or is located near the business the reviewer meant to attack.

Don’t assume the review platform or site is going to help you figure out who posted the review. Most of the well-known platforms are not going to reveal subscriber or user information without a court order or subpoena, and those are not tools you will have access to without a lawsuit. If the review sounds like it could be from an actual customer, assume that it is for the purposes of figuring out how to respond.

Step 3: Determine if the information in the review is accurate.

Some statements are just opinions, like, “I don’t like this restaurant,” or “the doctor here is annoying” or “I hate this place and wish they would close.” You can’t really say if those are accurate or not because they can’t be proven true or false.

If a person says they don’t like your restaurant and describes how the food was cold, the restroom was dirty, and the service was slow, those are all statements that at least hypothetically, could be disproven.

Knowing whether the review is just an opinion and whether it’s accurate or not will help determine what steps you take to address it. You’re probably going to want to approach an honest, but unflattering, review, differently than a review filled with false and misleading statements of fact.

Step 4: Ask yourself, how bad is the review?  

Not all bad reviews are equally bad. With the rise of consumer review platforms came abuses from businesses and consumers, alike. Some businesses, for instance, manipulated their ratings and paid employees, strangers, or actual customers to leave positive reviews. Many consumers have become aware of these and other deceptive practices. Some have come to be skeptical of businesses that have only the highest ratings.

Short reviews and brief opinion statements may not carry as much weight when consumers read through your business’s reviews. They might even help show consumers that your reviews are honestly earned and encourage a favorable impression of your business overall. A detailed review, whether accurate or not, that lists out specific events or reasons to support the reviewer’s assessment may be more likely to give a consumer pause.

A review that is full of hostile and abusive language says more about the reviewer than it does about your business. But it’s still not the type of material you want other consumers to have to read through.

Step 5: Ask yourself, how much does the review matter?

If your business has dozens and dozens of reviews, a negative review here and there isn’t as likely to have a profound effect on your business, or even on your business rating. But if you have only a handful of reviews, even one negative post will stand out from the rest.

Take the time to think through each of these considerations before moving on to the next steps: deciding if and how to respond.

By Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez | © The Law Offices of Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez. All rights reserved.

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