For a small business, a reputation for quality is one of greatest assets you can have.

Handling negative online reviews

March 29, 2016 2:35 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

For a small business, a reputation for quality is one of greatest assets you can have. This reputation, however, can easily become tarnished at the hands of an angry customer who goes online and leaves a negative review on any number of consumer review sites like Yelp, Angie's List or Facebook Business pages. 

In the event that your business is the subject of a negative review, it is important to take a moments and consider the situation. Business owners have relatively limited recourse in terms of responding to or dealing with negative reviews. Handling negative reviews takes on two distinct aspects: dealing with them legally and personally.

Legally, business owners who are subject to negative reviews have two options when trying to pursue action against reviewers: defamation and breach of contract.

Defamation is defined as "communication of a false statement that harms another's reputation," and is used to fight lies being purposely spread to undermine the reputation of a certain party by a different hostile party. The key to establishing defamation in court is the ability to prove that the plaintiff was aware of the truth and actively choose to tell an untruth as part of their account — i.e. "actual malice".

Furthermore, defamation doesn't cover a subjective assessment of goods or services. That mean that if a reviewer says they didn't like the goods or services they purchased from a business or that they thought they were of low quality, they are entitled to share that opinion. This makes it shaky ground by which seek a resolution to a negative review. 

Breach of contract only comes into play when a company has a a "terms of service" document written into a contract barring a negative review, often under penalty of fines. These kinds of clauses are uncommon and typically frowned upon by the courts as a form of intimidation, as evidenced a recent ruling against KlearGear, a company who had attempted to fine a customer $3,500 for leaving a negative review online. 

Given the difficulty in pursuing a legal claim against a reviewer, it is typically the better solution to simply try and handle the feedback in an more informal way. To keep the situation from spirally out of control, follow these simple tips:

  • Keep calm and sleep on it. While it may be tempting to respond quickly to a negative review, it can just as easily lead to emotion getting the best of you. An angry, accusatory response from a business owner may often lend credence to the reviewers claims. Take your time considering what the person is saying before you do anything rash.
  • Respond carefully and diplomatically. Often review sites will give the business owner a chance to respond to a negative review. This can be a good opportunity to give your side of the story, offer context for an incident, as well as engage with the upset customer. Regardless of how you remember the incident, it helps to validate the customer's feeling by saying something to the effect of "I apologize that you had a bad experience." Keep in mind that this response will reflect directly on your business as a whole, so choosing a more diplomatic tone may lead to a better resolution.

Often if you communicate with compassion and understanding, the reviewer may be inclined to revise their original review to something more positive. 

The Law Offices of Donald W. Hudspeth, P.C. are committed to helping small businesses with all their legal needs. Contact us today to find out how we can be of assistance. 

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