How not to deal with negative reviews

This blog post isn’t about fake reviews, or reviews for sale – which could occupy a whole other blog post of their own – but rather it’s about real online reviews which are negative.

As someone who has worked in SEO for many years, I have of course encountered many situations of clients receiving negative reviews online – be it on Trip Advisor, Yelp, Google, Facebook, or elsewhere. This is a natural result of owning a business that offers a product or service; you cannot please everyone all of the time, and there will always be the odd customer who will want to have a grumble (justifiably or not), just as there will be some customers who will want to sing your praises.

Some bad reviews seem to come out of thin air, and can baffle a business, whereas others may be expected. Whatever the reason behind it, and if they have done wrong or not, no business owner likes bad reviews being out there for others to read. If a client doesn’t have many reviews, a bad one can stand out to potential customers or service users, and put people off.

How Businesses Often Respond to Bad Reviews

If the comments are fair in a bad review (i.e. not offensive or vulgar), there is not much to be done about it other than respond to the reviewer in an understanding and kind manner, in the hope of reaching a mutual understanding. Some business owners – such as hotel owners – will also offer a gift voucher by way of an apology, and an opportunity for the reviewer to return and have a better experience thanks to their feedback and therefore the changes made in response to that.

Responding well to the complaint will improve your reputation amongst readers; transparency is key in customer relations.

How Law Firms Respond to Bad Reviews

If we all reacted in a calm way, by responding to the reviewer in a positive way, the online review arena would be fair. However, it has been alleged that those who should know more about equality and fair play than any of us are using their status to pervert the course of review justice.

The Independent recently published an article regarding law firms in England and Wales, some of whom have been ‘dealing with’ negative reviews online – not by replying courteously, but by sending out intimidating and threatening letters to the reviewers, which request that they either take their bad review down or legal action will be taken against them. If you received this letter from, say, a hotel, you’d probably know to question or ignore it, but a letter from a law firm could be a very scary thing to land on the doormat. After all, they would surely win any legal battle if the matter went any further!

Whilst researching this blog post I came across an article by a marketing agency for attorneys entitled ‘How to respond to negative law firm reviews’. The number one suggestion is for the law firm to request for the review to be removed. Unless a review contains offensive content, or breaks other terms of use, there is no reason for it to be removed by the host. So these solicitors are contacting the reviewers instead.

This lack of transparency and the failure to accept feedback unless it is positive is unhealthy for any business. Perhaps these law firms need to realise that a 100%, 5 star rating will look highly suspicious to those researching which firm to use. Even Disneyland – the ‘magical kingdom’ – gets 4.5 stars. You get the idea.

Flaws in the Review System

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for some) review websites tend to be deeply flawed, and all manner of tomfoolery, deceit and chicanery takes place without most users realising. There have been cases of negative reviews being removed by reviewers after they have received a refund for their hotel stays. There has also been a case of guests being ‘fined’ by a Blackpool hotel for posting a bad review on Trip Advisor, and allegations have been made recently of people ‘blackmailing’ businesses with poor reviews to get discounts.

It doesn’t take much searching to discover the inherent unreliability of review websites – for example, a London brothel has received four stars on Trip Advisor, and has innocently been referred to as a lovely “family hotel” with “excellent location”, “good service” and an “excellent breakfast”.

My advice to is to use these sites with caution. Negative reviews are dreaded by all business owners. Most sites have a system whereby the business can reply, and ‘explain themselves’ publicly, which, if done correctly, should be enough to stop future customers being deterred. However, I do not recommend sending the reviewers threatening letters requesting they remove their post, and am frankly shocked that anyone would have the audacity to do such a thing! Especially those who work in law.

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