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You Got a Negative Online Review. Now What? (Part I)

There is no shortage of advice on the internet about what to do when your business has received a bad online review.  Notwithstanding all the debate, there is one absolute truth when it comes to negative reviews.

If you are in business long enough, you will get one.

It could be a very legitimate complaint, a crazy client, or a competitor looking to damage your reputation. I’ve even seen a review from an understandably disgruntled client, but one that posted it for the wrong attorney!

Below is the first of a two-part post that will cover four options for dealing with negative online reviews:

Don’t respond.
Ask the review website to remove the negative info.
Contact the client via phone if you know who it is.
Bury the negative review in positive ones.

In most cases, don’t respond. This advice may come as a surprise to many. But the reality is that if a client is angry enough to go online, jump through a number of hoops, and write about their perceived poor experience, you are unlikely to change their mind. And responding can help fuel the fire, in more ways than one.

First, what you say can reflect poorly on you to future potential clients, especially if you write it when you’re angry. (Remember, there is one and only one reason to respond to a negative review, and that is to affect the perception future potential clients will have about your business. If you’re responding for any other reason, it’s the wrong one.)

Second, you invite another response from the same reviewer that may be much worse than the first. Even if you believe your response couldn’t be more apologetic or disarming, you cannot predict how it will be interpreted by the reviewer. I recently saw a lawyer attempt to patch things up via the review website by writing a very compassionate and heartfelt response. Unfortunately, the client’s response was, “Oh now you’re interested in making up for your bad service, but only after I exposed you for what you are… a smooth talking crook!”

Third, by responding, you may give the reviewer motivation to write negative reviews on more online properties… because they know you care about the impact. A negative review on one website is bad, but negative reviews on five different sites are much worse, especially if future readers can’t determine they are from the same person.

Fourth, your response may keep the review at the top of the search engines when someone searches for you by name, because you’re feeding it with fresh content… which search engines love. I once had a client who had a number of bad reviews on a complaints website that ranked number 9 on a Google search for the firm name. They went in and responded very nicely to all the reviews. Unfortunately, the negative review website immediately started ranking number 3 on Google. Fresh content drives rankings, regardless of whether that content is positive or negative.

Last, by responding, you run the risk of violating one or more of the disciplinary rules.  It’s incredibly tempting to respond with facts that disprove your former client’s claims of unresponsiveness, poor client service, incompetence, etc.  Doing so, however, may make confidential information known to the public, and open you up to a bar grievance.

(For Part II of this post, please click here.)

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