A consumer has written a scathing online review of her experience with your company – and now other potential customers are reading it! What do you do? Of course, your response depends first and foremost on whether the review is accurate. If it is, the best course of action is to fix the problem so you can truthfully reassure others that they won’t have the same experience.
But what if the accusations are blatantly false, and destroying your company’s reputation? Your first step is to offer evidence in support of your version of the facts and appeal to the customer and/or the website publishing the statement to retract it – or at the very least to provide space for your rebuttal.
And if that doesn’t work? Do you have any legal recourse against the customer? Against the operator of the website carrying the review? The critical issue is whether there is a false statement of fact. Opinion is fully protected, but knowingly or negligently making a false statement of fact is not. So, “I can’t stand that company, I’d never use them again” isn’t actionable, but “they took my money but never completed the job” might be. If the false statement was made on the customer’s own website, letting them know the very serious potential legal repercussions might encourage retraction of the statement. If it’s on a third party site, though, the website operator is usually not required to remove it even upon notice that it’s false.
A defamation suit is sometimes the appropriate course, but the quicker and less expensive route is to crank up your PR machine and get the word out about all your satisfied customers. And be aware that suing the consumer can get you in trouble if it’s really an attempt to silence truthful speech.