Michael Lerner

Wednesday - May 11, 2011

In tough times, paying the rent or mortgage takes precedent over most other expenses. It was no surprise then that a friend’s family therapy practice was hit hard by the recession. But business has picked up lately. Almost every week brings another client or two. How do they find him? On Yelp, the review site.

It seems that satisfied patients are spreading good words about him, resulting in new clients.

The takeaway for any business, small or large, is that in a Webbed world, customer reviews matter. But what happens if they post bad ones?

The most extreme action you can take is to threaten or actually file a lawsuit. Before you even consider this, analyze the review dispassionately (if you can). Is it false or misleading or is it a matter of opinion? (If you’re still hot under the collar, ask people you trust to weigh in.)

In the U.S. and many other countries, voicing one’s opinion is protected speech. While you might intimidate someone with a lawsuit, it’s expensive, you probably won’t win in court and you may make the situation worse by stirring up the pot.

A better tactic is to contact the disgruntled customer. Try to address his or her concerns. Was there a misunderstanding? Was someone just having a bad day and you got in the way? Now that the heat of the moment has dissipated, maybe he feels differently and will agree to change or retract the review.

But what if the reviewer refuses to budge?

Many sites like Angie’s List, TripAdvisor and Yelp now let businesses respond to reviews. A persuasive explanation from “management” can go a long way to educating prospective customers. At the very least, they see that you monitor reviews and take them seriously. They also get to read two sides of the story and then make up their own minds.

All this takes time and effort, which is always in short supply. But the stakes are too high for most businesses to just do nothing. People have loads of options these days, so don’t give them a reason to write you off.