Effective Ways for Responding to Negative Reviews Online

Business owners are no strangers to negative online reviews. Negative reviews can drive a business owner to madness because they can happen regardless of the quality the work or how many happy customers a business may have. As a business owner, you may have asked yourself: does a negative review really matter? As many brand managers and marketing executives will tell you, the answer is yes. Negative reviews can alter consumer perception of a business and in a world of Yelp and Google Reviews, more and more potential customers rely on online reviews when making purchasing decisions. Responding to negative reviews is important to managing a company’s image and reputation.

Just as important as the question of whether to respond to a negative review, a business owner must also ask: do I know how to respond to negative reviews without getting angry or defensive? When responding to a negative online review, a business must be careful not to cross the line into defamation or violate legal or professional rules of confidentiality such as HIPAA or the Code of Professional Conduct for accountants.

You should never respond to a negative review while upset. Doing so increases the chances that the response will come off as petty or at worst constitute defamation. A response is defamatory if it makes false statements of fact concerning the author of the original post. Responses that contain personal attacks against the negative review’s author are more likely to be considered defamatory than reviews that are neutral in tone and follow these tips:

  • Introduce yourself and address the author by name
  • Do not argue or use sarcasm or attempt humor
  • Show empathy and understanding
  • Keep the response short

An important rule-of-thumb when responding to online reviews is to always remember the goal of the response. It should be to convince future readers of the negative review and your response not to be dissuaded from doing business with your company. You should be trying to impress readers with your responsiveness and attention to customers. Your goal is not to win over the negative reviewer—unless that is important in which case you are better off getting in touch with the reviewer offline in the first instance.

Keeping this rule-of-thumb in mind should help to minimize the chance of a response crossing the line into defamation or violating professional rules. But sometimes, it is the negative review itself that is defamatory and contains false statements. In such instances, the urge to set the record straight with a scathing response may be greater than ever. It is important not to give in to the urge. If the negative review does in fact make demonstrably false statements about your business or product, you as a business owner have a few options:

  • Seek to have the negative review removed: Most online review platforms have terms and conditions that prohibit false statements. A business owner can submit evidence refuting the false statements in the review and request removal of the review. At that point, the review website will determine whether and when to remove the review.
  • Send a cease and desist letter to the original reviewer: Before filing a defamation action, it may behoove a business to send a well-worded cease and desist letter to the author of the defamatory review in hopes of achieving the desired outcome of removal of the review. A cease and desist letter can be a double-edged sword, however, and may lead the original reviewer to post the letter online bringing even more negative attention to your business and the original negative review. For more information, read about the Streisand Effect.
  • File a defamation lawsuit: If less extreme options fail, filing a defamation lawsuit to have the negative review removed may be your best option. An experienced defamation and libel law attorney will be able to help you determine whether the negative review crosses the line from non-actionable opinion to actionable defamation and what your options are.

As a business owner, you must be prepared to deal with negative or defamatory reviews when they happen because negative reviews can cause devastating effects to a business. If the review is merely negative, you should respond but in a measured, positive way that let’s future customers know that you take pride in your company and product. If the review contains defamatory statements of fact that are demonstrably untrue, you have several options as well to have the review removed and hold the author accountable.

Lubin Austermuehle’s Chicago defamation attorneys have offices in Elmhurst and Chicago, Illinois. We represent clients throughout Illinois, including Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas. To schedule a consultation with a member of our team, contact us online or by phone at 630-333-0333.

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