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Responding to negative reviews online? Think before you click

It's the easiest thing in the world to reply to a Facebook post from a friend. Without thought, we share their personal victories and defeats, clicking the Post button without hesitation, sometimes many times a day. For businesses, this a powerful tool that should be explored.

When your company starts its own social media interactions, the familiarity of sending an instant reply might be easy or feel like the right thing to do... until the comments take on a life of their own.

Bad reviews are bound to happen

You cannot please everyone. At least one customer is going to be dissatisfied with your work or level of customer service. In some industries, dissatisfaction practically comes with the job. It is easy to want to defend your business when a customer writes a bad review. You can do this, but the key is to think before you click.

Why? The upside to social media: it is powerful. The downside: it is powerful. While people might ignore an emotional post on your personal profile, they tend to grab onto less-than-professional comments made on a business page.

A real life example

A dentist office received a negative review on their website. The patient rather explicitly accused the receptionist of being rude, the hygienist of rough treatment and the dentist of completing unnecessary work.

The senior partner, and the dentist who worked on the patient, recalled the entire appointment vividly, perhaps with a large amount of frustration. He was so upset, he responded to the patient online, pointing out the lies and exaggerations in the patient's post.

The dentist went as far as to describes what procedure was completed and the resulting prognosis, to support his point. Words without context felt as though he was yelling at the patient in a closed room with soundproofing. To other clients, this might simply look to be in bad taste for a business.

Legal complications result

The reality is something far more disturbing. In the reply from the dental office, the patient's name, dental office, the time of last appointment, the procedure received, prognosis and even the schedule for a follow up appointment. This information was posted on a public forum, for the entire world to read on the internet.

The patient's personal information was shared and they have been publicly shamed. They are now not only angry at a perceived problem; they also have legal grounds to file a complaint against the business.

The comment goes 'viral'

Meanwhile, legal considerations aside, the post went viral. A hundred thousand people shared, commented, made a meme and thoroughly villainized the dentist as an insensitive and incompetent doctor.

Local media stations picked up the buzz and added it to their talking segment at the end of the newscast. Appointments were canceled and the office started to lose patients who had been loyal customers for decades.

The dentist could probably didn't foresee the end result. He and his staff provided the exact service the patient required while being abused by an angry and unreasonable person. However, his reputation and business are going to be ruined. Why?

Businesses must swallow their pride and think before they click

The dentist did not follow the golden rule in his social media communication with the patient: the customer is always right. Always take the highroad on social media communications, regardless of the real story. This means keep disputes private, respond with respect, and hold the customer's personal information secure from the rest of the world.

When responding to any social media comment, it is very much the same as going in front of a camera on national television. Everybody has the opportunity to see it and judge that remark, in or out of context. No delete button erases comments entirely.

When faced with a negative review, it is best to acknowledge the poster's feelings and invite the aggrieved party the chance to resolve the situation in private.

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