Part 2: Taking action
Whatever your response to a negative online review might be, first consider taking some action to capture or save or preserve the review. There are apps and programs to help, but in a pinch, a clear screenshot will do.
If you have any reason to believe the situation might escalate, it is helpful to have documentation showing what happened and when it happened.
Once you have taken the time to consider the review, its most likely author, and the potential effects it might have on your business, you can think about what to do next. Below are just a few of the options that might be available to you, depending on your circumstances.
Option 1: Do nothing.
This is an option to consider if the review isn’t terrible, isn’t prominent, and isn’t likely to have any effect on your business. You are not obligated to respond to every statement every person makes about you or your business. Any action you take in response to a review has the potential to escalate the situation and lead to greater costs to you. Although it may seem like it is important in principle to respond to negative comments, try to think about whether it makes sense from a business perspective.
Option 2: Report the review.
Keep in mind review sites are not typically in the business of determining who is right and who is wrong. They are concerned with whether the content, on its face, is offensive. They are not concerned with whether the content is offensive to you personally because you believe it is inaccurate and misleading. If the review’s language contains threats of violence or extortion, curse words or slurs, or discriminatory or abusive language, flag or report the review. It may lead to the review’s removal.
Additionally, if the review isn’t about you—if it’s a review about a different business, or if the review is not from an actual customer of yours, those can also be reasons to report the review. Some, but not all, review sites may investigate and potentially remove the review in response.
Option 3: Respond offline.
If you know who posted the review, if the review is accurate, and you have a means of contacting the poster, you can consider responding offline and asking what you can do to make the situation right. You do not have to offer a refund and should not offer an incentive to remove the review. This option is just a way to reach out and address the person’s concerns without the rest of the world watching. This step is not likely to be effective if the person is irrational, if they lied or exaggerated in their review, or if they have behaved in a hostile or aggressive manner toward you or your staff.
Option 4: Respond online.
Most review sites also allow businesses to respond to the reviews they receive. If you are thinking about responding in this manner, it is important to consider whether you can respond and what you should say.
First, you may not be able to respond. Many businesses are obligated to keep customer information private because of state laws, federal laws, or a business’s policies and procedures.
If your business is a medical practice, for example, and you respond to a review, you run the risk of confirming the reviewer is a patient of yours.
Unless you have consent from the patient, you could breach your legal duty to keep some information about the client confidential by commenting on the information in the review, even though the information was voluntarily disclosed.
If you are unsure about whether you are within your rights to respond to a review, consult with your attorney or with an attorney who has experience with privacy and confidentiality requirements.
If you can respond to online reviews, what should you say?
It depends on whether your goal is to be right or to be effective.
Because consumers are more accustomed to seeing negative reviews than they may have been in the past, a negative review on its own may not be as influential as the business owner’s response. A response that indicates the business values feedback invites the reviewer to discuss their concerns offline, and compassionately corrects inaccuracies may not only negate the effects of a negative review, but enhance the business’s overall reputation.
A response that only points out the inaccuracies and chastises the reviewer may increase the believability of the review and detract from the business’s reputation, even if the business owner is completely in the right.
Facts are important. But how the facts are presented can be even more important.
In general, try not to let your first negative review be the first time you respond to a review. Many businesses make a practice of responding to all their reviews, positive and negative. While that may not be feasible for your business, regularly interacting with reviews may let consumers know you are engaged and care about your customers’ opinions.
Option 5: Ask the reviewer to edit or take down the post.
Many review sites allow the person who posted the review to edit or remove the review. Some sites, however, do not. Before considering asking the reviewer to remove their review, find out whether that’s an option on the particular review platform.
If an edit or removal is an option, you can consider contacting the reviewer if you have a way to contact them. You can address the reviewer’s legitimate concerns, correct any inaccuracies, and ask them either to remove their review or at least edit the review to make it accurate. You can undertake this step on your own or contact an experienced attorney to help you.
This step is less likely to be effective if you demand money from or threaten the reviewer or if the reviewer is not rational. If the reviewer is convinced that they are in the right, or if they believe they have a responsibility to warn other consumers, they are less likely to remove or edit their reviews voluntarily.
Consult with an attorney if you are unsure if this step makes sense in your situation.
Option 6: Sue.
If a reviewer has made provably false statements of fact about you or your business, you may be within your rights to sue them for defamation or related claims. Litigation, however, should never be the first step to resolving a possible consumer dispute.
Some reviews can cause an immediate and lasting impact on your business. If a review is causing substantial and provable economic losses to you and other methods for addressing the situation have failed, litigation may be an option you’ll need to consider. Litigation can offer tools, such as subpoenas, that may help you uncover the identity of an anonymous poster. Additionally, some review sites will only remove a review after a person has sued, prevailed, and obtained a judgment determining the statements in the review were defamatory or unlawful in some other way. In those situations, litigation may be the only way to have a review removed. But litigation carries many risks and both personal and financial costs.
Consult with an attorney before deciding to sue because there may be other alternatives for you to explore.
The options above are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to do nothing for a time or report the review then reach out to the reviewer and also respond to the review online and, then, if none of those actions achieve the result you want, to sue.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling negative reviews. Take the time to consider your goals, your options, and the potential risks before deciding on a course of action, and consider working with an experienced attorney to identify the steps that best fit your circumstances.
By Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez | © The Law Offices of Alexandra Tracy-Ramirez. All rights reserved.