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Handling Online Reviews: A Challenge in Every Industry

by James F. McClister

The delivery and role of customer reviews have evolved dramatically and handling feedback is no longer an internal process

businessman pushing button five rating stars

The Internet has become such a prominent cog in our world that no industry is quarantined from its relevance. Doctors, lawyers, restaurateurs, everyone and anyone is online, whether they want to be or not (and for business owners, they should want to be). As such, the delivery and role of customer reviews have evolved dramatically. No longer is handling feedback an internal process, but one where the public plays both spectator and participant.

To aid agents in handling their online reviews, we’ve looked at how some other industries deal with feedback to help mitigate negative backlash while emphasizing their expertise and authority as an industry representative.

Doctor…Doctor – Handling reviews of medical care is as touchy as navigating a minefield, because confidentiality obligations limit a doctor’s ability to respond, which can mean a negative review going unaddressed. Tact is the medical professional’s ally in those regards. While real estate agents will often approach a negative review in the public arena, allowing for maximum transparency, for a doctor the preferred route is to contact the reviewer directly and privately while maintaining the calm and professional disposition you’d expect to see in a more public reply. If the negative review turns out to be an accurate assessment, medical professionals may then respond publically, generally in the form of an apology.

A Legal Defense – Like medical professionals, lawyers often find themselves in precarious positions when it comes to online reviews, as their responses threaten to cross certain ethical and legal lines long drawn in the sand. Some legal professionals choose to combat negative reviews by leveraging their own specialty: the law. Last year, a Georgia divorce lawyer was awarded a $405,000 verdict in a case against a client who called her a “CROOK lawyer” and “extremely fraudulent lady” online. However, two California bar associations – one based in San Francisco and the other in Los Angeles – released an ethics document offering a less aggressive strategy. They said that while it’s sometimes inappropriate to respond to a negative reviewer, it’s not always a bad idea so long as there is no confidential information revealed, it does not “injure” the client in “any matter involving the prior representation” and the response is “proportionate and restrained.” It’s the difference between a punch and a tap.

Food for Thought – Perhaps nowhere (not even in real estate) are the role of reviews more prominent than in the food service industry. On a daily basis, restaurants and their restaurateur owners are faced with a barrage of reviews, often a mixed bag of delighted, modestly satisfied and absolutely disgusted. Most restaurant owners admit to being open to constructive feedback, but some say the amount can be overwhelming, especially when you’re so emotionally involved. When it’s your business, it’s easy to take these things personally. That’s one of the reasons Kelly English, owner of Restaurant Iris in Memphis, no longer reads his reviews but instead has an employee handle the process, he recently told Eater. By allowing a third party to look over and respond to reviews, the responses are more measured and less emotional. One of the most important parts of online exchanges is maintaining composure in the face of criticism, especially if its accuracy is questionable. As small business owners themselves, many agents could learn from English’s decision to delegate the handling of online reviews.

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