My Business Received a Negative Review: What Do I Do?

July 8, 2014

Co-Author: Katie Shaw

Due to the rise of customer-review websites and social media, it is unfortunately likely that every business receives a bad customer review online. Negative reviews can be difficult to swallow for business owners, as they have the potential to affect customer perceptions and future business. However, there are several smart steps business owners can take to avoid the consequences of a bad review.

Avoid the “Streisand Effect”

Of course, you are understandably upset and angry. Although you may want to act immediately to remove the review, defend your business, or even sue the reviewer, a rash response may make matters even worse. Attempting to remove, alter, or censor the review may lead to unwanted consequences of the “Streisand Effect,” a phenomenon coined when pop-star Barbara Streisand brought suit against a photographer after he published a photograph of Streisand’s ocean-front mansion on his website. Once the press caught wind of the suit, views of the website jumped from six to over 420,000 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect). Although an extreme example, Streisand’s experience shows how mismanaging bad press can grow into even worse press.

Analyze the Review & Stay Positive

Sit back for a moment and analyze the customer’s feedback. If your business has made a genuine mistake, admit it and work for positive change. You may want to politely approach the reviewer and ask what you can do to improve their experience in the future. Sustaining businesses leverage customer feedback, whether positive or negative, as a tool for growth. Take the time to listen to feedback and determine whether there is room to improve your customers’ experiences. At the same time, encourage your customers to post positive, honest reviews of your business. One bad review will not take away from a multitude of great reviews.

Know When Legal Action May be Appropriate

If the reviewer is making false statements about your business, then steps should and can be taken to correct those mistruths. As a first step, send a letter to the reviewer asking for retraction of the statements. If the reviewer is anonymous, consumer-review websites typically provide ways to flag reviews as problematic or “report” the reviewer.

If the false statements persist, legal action may be appropriate. Depending on the particular scenario, you may have a claim for “injury to business” under Wis. Stats. Sec. 134.01. To succeed on the claim, you must prove that two or more persons acted together to willfully or maliciously injure your business. However, the challenge to a successful claim under Wis. Stats. Sec. 134.01 is proving that the conspirators acted with actual malice, a personal state of mind that may be hard to prove.

If the reviewer is a competitor posing to be a member of the public, then other claims may be pursued. For instance, if a competitor is making false statements about your business or the products or services it offers, and those falsehoods result in a loss of business to your company, you may be able to pursue the tort of unfair competition. Again, the success of this claim would depend on the particular facts at hand.

Continue to Build Your Customer Base

Absent circumstances where legal action is appropriate, the best remedy is often to continue building a supportive customer base. With time, as you continue serving your customers’ needs, the positive customer experiences will outweigh and overshadow any negative feedback.  However, keep in mind that if the reviewer continues to step over boundaries, legal action may be appropriate.

Special thanks to Summer Associate Katie Shaw for her assistance with this article.

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For more information about "My Business Received a Negative Review: What Do I Do?," contact Andrew J. Clarkowski at aclarkowski@axley.com or 608.283.6705.