Now she is posting bad reviews about us online that are completely false. What do you suggest we do?
– Bobby Sarantakis, Manager, The Hayward Ranch Restaurant, Hayward, CA
In this column, we have previously addressed whether to respond to legitimate bad reviews—someone unhappy with her or his dining experience who then shares that dissatisfaction publically.
This question, however, is slightly different. What if you know the negative review is totally false? For example, a competitor, disgruntled former employee or manager’s ex-boyfriend or girlfriend posting in retaliation?
Most review sites decline to settle disputes and will initially refuse to remove the review unless it violates another policy, for example using foul language. Some examples:
Citysearch: “If you’re concerned that a competitor or disgruntled employee wrote a review, they may be trying to damage your reputation in other ways, so it’s best to first try and settle the dispute directly with them. Citysearch is not able to determine the truthfulness of statements that users make, validate a user’s identity or mediate disputes.”
Google: “Google Places reviews are a forum for users to share both positive and negative opinions. We do not arbitrate disputes and more often than not, we leave the review up. If your business received a review that you don’t agree with, we encourage you to use business owner responses to reconcile the situation with the customer. We know a negative review can be frustrating, but we believe that engaging with a customer to address his or her concerns creates the best environment on Google Places.”
Yelp: “We don't arbitrate disputes, so your best bet is to contact the reviewer or post a public response in order to clear up any misunderstandings. Please bring the review to our attention if, on its face, it violates our Content Guidelines (e.g., the reviewer admittedly describes a second-hand experience or uses a racial slur). Please include your business name, city and state and the name of the reviewer in question when contacting us about a review.”
As a first strategy, try to determine whether there is something you can do (within reason) that will encourage the unhappy guest to remove the review. You can also reply publically to the review, but be careful not to get in a sparring match that makes you look unprofessional. Some owners do have success requesting that a review be removed, often after repeated requests or a strongly worded letter from a lawyer to the reviewer and/or the site.
Putting things in perspective, though, Natalie Kalb, marketing manager for Mercadito Hospitality Group says, “Quite honestly, I think that yelp has just lost a lot of credibility, strength and buzz … I don't actually respond to people's bad comments because I think that sometimes it makes the issue larger than what it really is, and we give importance to something that is not.”
More on managing online reviews here.