People who know me in real life know that I (used) to speak frequently on issues involving legal ethics. This includes the topic of how lawyers should handle bad reviews.*
One piece of advice I offer applies not just to lawyers, but all businesses, and that is: Do not respond to a bad review by attacking the customer/client.
Responding Badly Creates Bad PR
Responding to a bad review in a negative way wins you no fans and can easily cause your business a great deal of damage. Sometimes bad responses can go viral. For example, a wedding planner was apparently upset about a bad review and decided to go after the customer. In their response, the planner called the couple incompetent and immature and revealed information about the wedding. I have no idea whether the couple was incompetent and immature. But I do know that the business owner was, to me, extremely unprofessional in the response they crafted.
True, some people responded favorably to the wedding planner, cheering them on. Other people attacked the planner for being unprofessional. In the end, you have to ask yourself, is the wedding planner likely to get any business from attacking a client on the web? Are the people who cheered the planner likely to hire them? Or, are people who are actively searching for a wedding planner likely to come across the negative response and think wow, I don’t want these people involved in my wedding.
Bad Responses Lose Clients
Let’s use me as an example of what people commonly do when searching for a company. Some years ago, after I purchased my first home, I needed to find a contractor to do some work. I went on Angie’s List to find some options. Like many people, I immediately went to the reviews. Also, like many people, I looked not only at the positive reviews, but the negative reviews. In addition, I looked at the responses to the negative reviews.
I saw quite a few companies with a lot of good reviews, and a couple of bad reviews. In some cases, the business, in response to a negative review, would attack the customer and reveal specific information about the job. Sometimes very personal information. In other cases, the business would respond in a polite fashion, asking how they could make things right. Even if a business had only one negative review and one hundred positive reviews, if I saw a personal attack that revealed information about the customer, I wrote the business off my list.
Why won’t I hire a company that angrily responds to a bad review? To my mind a business that decides to respond to a bad review (even an obnoxious review) by attacking the customer and revealing any information about that customer is unprofessional. In addition, such a response makes me worry about what will happen if I hire the business and have a bad experience? Will they attack me if I leave a bad review, even a completely fair one? Will they work with me to resolve the problem? Do I risk running into someone who has a very bad temper? Someone, I might be inviting into my home? There are too many companies to hire for me to risk the trouble an unprofessional review response suggests might be brewing somewhere in the business. Especially a small business, where I am more likely to encounter the person who actually wrote the review.
Business Should Defend Themselves – But…
Businesses absolutely have a right to defend themselves online. However, it is entirely possible for businesses to defend themselves without going on the attack. In addition, it is important that managers be honest with themselves about why the business got a negative review. Before getting angry at the customer, the manager should stop and consider whether anything the customer wrote is true. Even if the review is inartfully written. Businesses can learn from negative reviews. They can use them to identify weaknesses and figure out how to resolve them. Sooner or later, most businesses run into an unreasonable customer or client. Such things happen. But, if a business keeps getting angry reviews from unreasonable customers, they might want to stop and consider the fact that what the angry reviewers have in common is the business.
Bad Reviews Can Lead to New Customers
In addition, when people see a positive response to a negative review. A response that suggests the business works with their customers to make sure they are happy, the potential customer is more likely to think positively of that business. After all, it looks like this is a business that goes the extra mile to make their customers happy. In addition, if the business can resolve the problem, the customer may be willing to remove the bad review.
Seek Good Reviews
The absolute best response to bad reviews is to be proactive and get good reviews. A couple of bad reviews, even awful reviews, will likely be disregarded by potential customers when there are a number of good reviews. In fact, Yelp! reported that having a couple of bad reviews makes the business’ online presence look more real. How you go about seeking reviews depends on your business. Obviously, you want to be careful who you ask.
Of course, the best way to obtain good reviews is to provide amazing service. Remember, every interaction with a customer or a client is positive, neutral, or negative. Aim to make every interaction positive, if you can. Work with your staff to make sure that they treat your customers the way you would want to be treated by a business you are giving your money.
Personally, I doubt that the temporary satisfaction an angry business owner might get from a negative or angry response is worth the loss of even one customer. I recommend, if your business gets a bad review, that you step back, give yourself time to calm down, and craft a polite response. If you cannot manage to do so, ask someone else to help you. Don’t leave an angry response that will likely do more harm than good.