What It Means For Businesses and Consumers
Think back to the last time you tried a new restaurant. Before stepping foot in the door, chances are you read online reviews about the restaurant on a platform like Yelp.
Leaving a review for a business may not seem like a huge deal to the consumer, but reviews can make or break a business. Reputation is everything, and in a counterproductive move, some businesses have tried to improve their reputation by silencing less than stellar reviews.
In an effort to combat this, the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA) was passed by Congress in 2016.
“Reviews on where to shop, eat, or stay on websites like Yelp or TripAdvisor help consumers make informed choices about where to spend their money. Every consumer has the right to share their honest experiences and opinions of any business without the fear of legal retaliation,” stated Senator Brian Scharz (D-Hawaii).
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the CRFA makes it, “illegal for companies to include standardized provisions that threaten or penalize people for posting honest reviews.” In other words, a company can’t include a statement in their terms and conditions that restricts or punishes someone for leaving an honest negative review.
Enforcing the CRFA
So, the CRFA makes it illegal to contractually prohibit customers from sharing negative reviews online, but what actually happens to the organizations who get caught in the act?
In 2019, the FTC brought administrative complaints against five companies for violating the CRFA.
For three of the five companies, LVTR LLC LVTR (Las Vegas Trail Riding), National Floors Direct, and Staffordshire Realty, the results of their actions backfired profoundly. When prospective customers visit these Yelp business pages, instead of just finding negative reviews, they are also greeted with a consumer alert on behalf of Yelp, warning that, “This business may have tried to abuse the legal system in an effort to stifle free speech.” (A major red flag to most consumers).
Aside from that, all five companies had to let affected consumers know that they couldn’t actually take any legal action against them and that they do in fact have the right to post truthful reviews.
The Right Way To Tackle Negative Consumer Reviews
So, you want to do right by your customers, but you also don’t want negative Yelp reviews.
It’s inevitable that your business will make a mistake at some point. You may accidentally charge a customer for a drink they didn’t buy or send them home with the wrong takeout order, leaving a bad taste in their mouths (no pun intended). Your business may not even make a mistake and still bear the brunt of an unhappy customer online.
While you can’t prohibit people from writing negative reviews, you can respond to them thoughtfully and apologetically when they do.
1. First Thing’s First: Make Amends
Despite whether or not you think you were wrong, it’s still important to acknowledge the customer’s feelings and apologize for the negative experience they had. Being sympathetic and offering a simple, “We’re sorry to hear about the issue you experienced…” can go a long way. By acknowledging the feelings of the customer you show that you not only care about the customer you’re addressing, but all of your current and prospective customers.
2. Let The Customer Know You’re Listening
While you don’t want to be too wordy, addressing a customer’s specific issue will make them feel heard or at least acknowledged. If a customer thinks the line they waited in was too long, address it with a response like, “we pride ourselves on speedy customer service and we apologize we didn’t meet those expectations.”
3. Take It Offline
Fully resolving a problem online isn’t very likely, and trying to may leave you vulnerable to more negativity. Think about it. When was the last time you resolved an issue with anyone by going back and forth via Facebook comments? Privately communicating via email or phone is a much stronger tactic when it comes to conflict resolution.
If possible, offer an email address, a phone number and the name of a customer service rep or manager the customer can reach out to to resolve the issue.
4. Don’t Write A Novel
As previously mentioned, your response should not be too long. While it may be easy to get defensive and go on a tangent, the longer your response is, the more you could be legitimizing the complaint. Three to four concise and well-crafted sentences should be more than enough. Put simply, keep it short and sweet.
Is It Ever Okay To Remove Or Prohibit A Review?
While the CRFA is in place to protect the honest opinions of consumers, there are a handful of cases in which it’s okay to completely remove negative comments entirely.
- When they reveal confidential information like someone’s medical or financial records.
- The claim is libelous, obscene, or vulgar or disrespects other races, genders, sexual preference or ethnicities.
- Has nothing to do with the a company’s offerings
- Is blatantly false
The Biggest Takeaways
As the truth becomes increasingly necessary for savvy consumers and the FTC cracks down on businesses violating the CRFA, the importance of integrity in your online reviews is vital. The next time you think about removing an unflattering customer review or even responding to one, make sure you’re doing so respectfully, thoughtfully and in accordance with the CRFA.