On the news, it was recently reported that a dentist was suing a former patient and her ex-husband because they posted on Yelp that he was a “butcher” and a “crook.” The dentist stated that he believed it was an attempt to gain money from a medical malpractice suit and that they wanted to destroy his reputation. The couple said that they just wanted to warn others about this doctor’s terrible work. Could this Yelp review destroy the dentist’s business?

There are many popular online reviews sites out there. Yelp alone has over 132 million monthly visitors and 57 million reviews. With the rise of smartphone ownership, finding business reviews on-the-go has never been more convenient. This is a mixed blessing for small businesses. A great online review can bring more customers in. On the other hand, if your business is having an off day and someone posts a bad review, it could linger online for weeks to years and potentially turn away hundreds to thousands of potential customers.

What can a customer legally say about your business?

What if that review is untrue or an exaggeration?  Then, it might be considered libelous or slanderous depending on the parameters of the review. Libel and slander are the acts of making untrue statements about another which damages his or her reputation. If the defamatory statement is printed or broadcast over the media it is libel and, if only oral, it’s slander. Customers can write an opinion like, “I felt the quality of the hamburger was bad” but they cannot say, “The meat in my hamburger must have been road kill.” An opinion is passable, stating a falsehood as fact isn’t.

What can you do to address your customers’ negative reviews?

The best way to address these online reviews isn’t always in a messy or public argument with the customer.  Consider taking action with the following options:

  • Try reimbursing the customer so they can have a better experience and ask them to remove or revise their review.
  • You should take charge of your business page on Yelp. Become an active member on the site and respond to customer reviews to show that you truly care about how your business is run.
  • Wait it out since most people don’t navigate past the second page of reviews.
  • Consider reassessing your customer service or products, for example, do quality tests and ask others if your hamburgers really do taste like road kill. Or, it may be in your best interest to train your team on how to provide great customer service and empower them to be a part of the complaint resolution process.
  • Finally, if the comments truly are malicious and defamatory, consider contacting an UpCounsel business attorney to see what measures he or she recommends to clear your name and stop the accuser from taking further harmful actions.

Not all negative comments have bad outcomes, however. There was one website that had only positive reviews for their products and their sales suffered because it wasn’t deemed credible. Another study even showed that fewer than 25% of online shoppers report that they are unlikely to purchase a product after reading negative reviews. Furthermore, most of those reading the reviews take them with a grain of salt, knowing that they can’t trust an unknown party to assess a business.

Lastly, keep in mind that negative reviews will happen because you can’t please everyone. Regardless, creating a positive presence on your Yelp page, at the very least, alerts existing and potential new customers that you are concerned about each customer’s experience.

About the author

Christina Morales

Christina helps provide useful business and legal tips on UpCounsel for our customers and visitors. Having over a decade of writing experience in a variety of industries, she has also been very close to the legal space from a young age with family members who continue to practice business and tax law.

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