We have all had at least one unsatisfactory experience with a company or contractor. When emotions are high and you have reached your boiling point it is hard to refrain from sticking-it-to-‘em with a negative review on sights like Yelp or Angie’s List.
Letting others know about your bad experience is good, but be careful how you word your next Yelp review. It could land you a lawsuit! “Most people don’t know the legal nuances of how to write negative reviews without making defamatory statements,” says Eric Goldman, director of the High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University Law School in California. “Every time people post negative online reviews, they are betting their houses – in the sense that the criticized business can sue them and try to take their house.”
With more than 30 million user reviews posted to Yelp.com, businesses are starting to use the law to fight defamation, lost reputation, and lost business due to slanderous customer reviews.
Perez Vs. Dietz
This all started in Virginia when homeowner Jane Perez posted a negative customer review against contractor Christopher Dietz in the fall of 2012. Perez’s comments accused Dietz of stealing her jewelry and charging her for work that was never done. Dietz filed a lawsuit accusing Perez of defamation/slander.
Thomas Fortkort, the judge in the case, ruled that portions of the Perez’s review had to be removed from the web.
This case went to the Virginia Supreme Court. Judge Fortkort’s injunctions were overturned, with the court saying it was “not justified.” The Supreme Court sided with Perez that her negative customer review fell under, the First Amendment freedom of speech rights. This ruling has the case going back to Judge Thomas Fortkort who can set a trial in the case.
These litigations are important because they can determine the fate of discussions on the internet including if a contractor or company has a right to protection against slanderous reviews or if customers have a right to use their Freedom of Speech.
How to Protect Business
One of the best ways to protect your business from negative reviews is to do your due diligence. Protect your business by making sure you are covered for personal injury in your General Liability or Professional Liability Insurance Policies.
Other ways to elude even getting a negative review is to create a work environment tailored to customer satisfaction, ask the customer what you can improve on, and settle conflicts diplomatically with witnesses and paper work showing both parties agreements.
If you do get a negative review, respond to it in a private message or phone call. Most of the time the reviewer will be surprised you contacted them, embarrassed that they were so harsh, and understanding and even forgiving of any lapses in your businesses customer satisfaction. Most of those providing negative reviews just want to be heard, give an apology, and an offer to fix problem.
How to Protect Yourself
If you find yourself wanting to write a negative review follow these tips to protect yourself from being sued;
* Focus on the Facts
* Share Personal experiences
* Stay away from overarching broad statements
* Be specific (bad customer service, too expensive, bad finished product)
An example of a defamatory review:
Everyone at Blank’s Business is an incompetent, blubbering, fool! It took them a week to do one simple task and then when they were finally finished it was done WRONG! To top it off they charged me Extra! Do not go to these guys they are horrible!
An Example of a Correctly Written Review:
I was not pleased with the customer service or price of Blank’s Business. It took a week for my project to be completed where I have had this type of project completed in less than two days at Competitor’s Business. I was also surprised by the cost, it cost $ more at Blank’s Business to do the same project as Competitor’s Business.
An Example of a Business Response to a Negative Review:
I am sorry Unhappy Customer. We understand that our completion of your project did take longer than normal because of the Holidays with our staff taking vacations and the increase in work flow. We apologize for inconveniencing you. I also wanted to address our cost. We have to charge more for our services because we use special ink that does not run and special paper that never crinkles to give our customers the best finished project possible. We are giving you a $ coupon off your next project as a way to say sorry. We appreciate your business. Thank You, Blank Business