What to do about a bad review

This article first appeared in QuickBite Magazine.

In the age of Uber Eats, Deliveroo and TripAdvisor, our next meal is only a swipe away, every customer is an expert and word of mouth spreads faster than the speed of a dial-up connection.

Studies show that as many as 70% of customers under the age of 34 decide what and where to eat based on online reviews while two-thirds of all customers form an opinion after reading only four. Good or bad, truthful or otherwise, reviews matter and managing them should not be an afterthought.

In this article Morgan Wolfe, Trainee Solicitor in the Dispute Resolution team at City law firm Goodman Derrick, offers some practical and easy action tips on minimising negative reviews, leveraging the positive ones and protecting your commercial reputation from the digital naysayers.

Respond quickly

Studies show that over 40% of online consumers expect a response to a complaint within an hour. That may not always be feasible but do your best to respond in a timely fashion. Read reviews regularly and carefully. You shouldn’t necessarily take up every suggestion but ensuring your customers feel heard can go a long way toward soothing any bruised goodwill and may even strengthen your business.

Don’t be defensive

Our brains are hardwired to focus on the negative. That explains why customers are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones. A bad review can really get your hackles up but resist the urge to attack publically. Be polite, don’t blame the customer and, where appropriate, explain the situation, bearing in mind that the complaint may be based on a misunderstanding.

Maybe it’s you, not them

If you notice a pattern in negative online reviews, consider what could be contributing to the perception. Imagine being in your customer’s shoes. Why are they seeing things this way? What can you do to make it right, even if you’re not technically in the wrong? It’s unrealistic to expect five stars from everyone, but multiple references to the same issue could signal a systematic problem.

Choose review sites with care

When someone visits a review site, they expect honest feedback and are rightfully suspicious of paid reviews. Fast Company’s Chris Terrell advises businesses to select sites whose rankings are based on reviews from past customers, not advertising, and to consider using an industry-specific site which screens member businesses and verifies all ratings and reviews before publishing them.

See them in court?

A review which negatively affects the reputation of your business might be defamatory in the legal sense, but that doesn’t mean you should go to court. Defamation claims can be difficult and expensive to prove. Not only must you show that your business suffered (or could suffer) financially, but the person who made the statement (if you can find them) can plead a defence of telling the truth (no matter how bad) and/or honest opinion (no matter how subjective).

If someone posts “false words” about you, your property or business and does so with harmful intent, in theory this might give rise to a claim for malicious falsehood. You don’t need to show reputational damage, but you must prove that the statement was false and made with “improper motive”.  In either case, you have one year from the date the comment or post was first published to make a claim and the usual remedy, if you win, is a monetary award of damages which may be very modest.

A simpler, less risky and more cost effective solution may be to ask the website on which the comment was posted to take it down. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook, Google and others have facilities for reporting inappropriate content which can be found in the help and support pages (make sure to read the guidelines and terms). Many also offer advice on how to optimise your listing.

A robust reputation management strategy is considerably cheaper, and arguably less damaging to a commercial reputation, than a public and protracted court batter. Authentic reviews posted on reputable sites will go a long way towards engendering customer trust and loyalty and overcoming the potential damage of a (hopefully) few, rogue comments.

You can’t control what people say about you, but you can take proactive steps to shape the narrative.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice. If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.