The Wrong and Right Way to Handle Your Online Reputation
An Eye for an Eye
When Lan Cai received a serious back injury in an automobile accident, she realized that she needed a lawyer’s help.
She went to Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm of Houston, Texas.
However, the relationship between lawyer and client was rocky from the start, and it never got better. After multiple misunderstandings, Cai took to Yelp and Facebook and gave the firm very unflattering reviews. As she wrote:
After 3 days, they didn't tell me anything about the doctor I needed to go to. I was in a lot of pain. Not only that, they didn't know where the hell my car was! And they came to my house and into my room to talk to me when I was sleeping in my underwear. Seriously, it's super unprofessional! ...I came in to the office to meet with my previous attorney, but he literally ran off.
In response to their client’s unappreciative Internet activities, someone at Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm had a sensational idea that apparently went something like this: Hey, we’re lawyers! Let’s sue her!
If you are wondering why they would do this, it is because you probably have some common sense. However, in their defense, we can say that they might have felt encouraged by reports of cases like this one, in which a law firm sued a client who posted negative reviews, and won over $500,000 in addition to getting the reviews removed.
However, in the case of Hassel v. Bird, the lawyers were aided by two simple facts.
First, not only was the defendant unable to substantiate the claims she made against the firm in her reviews, but the firm could actually present strong evidence that she published claims that were patently false.
Second, even if that were not the case, the defendant completely ignored the entire process, causing the firm to win by default. Such was not the case with Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm's suit against Lan Cai.
The folks at the firm probably did not expect to get any money out of a waitress and college student, but may have simply been trying to use the suit as a way to pressure her into compliance. This did not work: she fought back.
Now, this case has been reported by numerous blogs and news websites leading to an additional flood of negative reviews on top of the negative reviews that the firm already had, and Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm has to pay $26,831.55 in attorneys’ fees on top of the embarrassment of losing the case.
Was Lan Cai actually lying about various things? Was she actually an unreasonable client? Was Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm actually the victim in all of this? Even if all of that were true, suing their client was not the right course of action for Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm.
Considering the fact that 67% of consumers are influenced by online reviews, it makes sense that professional service providers would want to protect their online reputation from disparaging reviews.
However, the path that Tuan A. Khuu Law Firm took was not the right one. There is another way. There is a better way.
A Better Way
The better way is to do as good business people always do: look at every obstacle as an opportunity.
Other businesses receive negative reviews too. For those who ignore them, these negative reviews become weights around their necks, wearing them out and slowing them down. For those who react to negative reviews improperly, the burden becomes even worse.
If you are able to find a way to turn these weights into wings, you will have created a strategic advantage over your competitors.
Okay. So what should you do?
Dealing With Poor Yelp Reviews
To deal with poor reviews, the first thing you should do is see if they violate any Yelp content guidelines. For example, can you prove that the review was written by a competitor? If so, you can get it removed. If that fails, the only way forward is to engage with the reviewer.
To do that, take the following steps:
Research the incident. Find out exactly what happened. Was your business truly at fault, or is the customer exaggerating? If your business was at fault, where did the problem occur?
Express sympathy. You should respond to all reviews, but you should especially respond to poor reviews. Let the reviewer know that you care and that you appreciate the feedback, even if it is negative.
Give an explanation. Tell the reviewer why this negative experience occur. The reviewer probably assumes that the reason for the poor experience is that you do not care about your customers. Give a different reason to replace this reason.
Clear up any misconceptions. The reviewer may have had the wrong idea about what to expect from your business. If that is the case, it only makes sense that the reviewer was disappointed. Politely set the record straight.
Detail your action plan. Clearly note the things that your business will do to create a better experience for customers in the future.
Ask for clarification. Identify any points in the reviewer’s narrative that seem questionable or inconsistent. Ask questions to make sure everyone is on the same page. This is a polite way of causing the reviewer to realize that all of the details might not be completely accurate.
Invite the reviewer to come back. This is vital. This is how you get people to update their reviews and give you five stars. And if you go out of your way to show you care, they just might do it.
The negative reviews you receive on Yelp and elsewhere - unreasonable though they may be - are useful in that they reveal weaknesses in your business model.
In many cases, if not for such reviews, you would not know about the problems you have, and the diminished customer experience would result in diminishing business without any evident reason. Receiving such negative reviews allows you to see what the problems are and address them.
As for specifically dealing with the person who gave you the poor review, consider the wisdom of Laozi:
There is nothing in the world more soft and weak than water, and yet, for attacking things that are firm and strong, there is nothing that can take precedence over it…the soft overcomes the hard, and the weak the strong...
You will inevitably encounter online reviewers who are emotional, unreasonable, and recalcitrant. If you simply reciprocate, the result will be like when you smash two rocks together: both will be pulverized. But if you become humble, express sympathy, and show that you are willing to change, you can be like the water that wears down the rock.
Even if you are unable to change that one person, your professional demeanor and willingness to work with critics in the public forum will become evident to anyone else reading the reviews, and that will actually work to your advantage.
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On average, a one-point difference to your Yelp score correlates to a difference of 5-9% in revenue.
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