In 2009, Amanda Bonnen tweeted about her moldy Chicago apartment to her 20 followers. Her landlord, Horizon Group Management, responded in the only reasonable way:
Sue her for everything she was worth.
That’s right — rather than apologize or investigate possible fungal growths in their apartments — or even just ignore the tiny tweet — Horizon went to the courts, claiming the tweet was “malicious and wrongful” libel, and demanding $50,000 from their tenant. One of Horizon’s leaders explained “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.”
Horizon’s lawsuit was dismissed, when the court found Bonnen’s tweet too ‘vague’ to be libel. But not before the news of their moldy apartments had spread to thousands of furious readers, amounting to a self-made “PR nightmare” for the business.
(In a double-win, Bonnen was the named plaintiff in a class action against Horizon for violating Chicago’s landlord-tenant ordinance. She won, and Horizon was forced to file for bankruptcy.)
When a client publicly pans you on social media, learn from Horizon’s mistakes. Don’t be a “sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” Here are some better ways to handle it instead:
The first rule is not to ignore social media. Check out what they’re saying about you on different sites, like www.yelp.com, www.avvo.com, and Google.
When Amy’s Baking Company was hit with too many customer complaints (and a particularly nightmarish performance on Gordan Ramsey’s reality TV show Kitchen Nightmares) the owner penned this respectful reply:
“I AM NOT STUPID ALL OF YOU ARE. YOU JUST DO NOT KNOW GOOD FOOD.”
This really cleared things up for disgruntled customers, who otherwise would go about their day just having opinions without recognizing their own stupidity and bad taste. Amy’s Baking Company followed this up with threatening to call the police on everyone posting about them, calling reviewers ‘punks,’ claiming God was on their side, and, finally, asserting their Facebook page had been hacked and they shouldn’t be held responsible for anything they posted.
The restaurant is now out of business.
Anyone responding to reviews should first be in a calm, positive mood. (And they should avoid caps-lock). Attacking negative reviews will only make you look mean and unpleasant, and build others’ sympathy for the original reviewer. And at its worst, it will bring the trolls your way.
Psychologists have found that refusing to apologize has psychological benefits, leaving the stubbornly-unsorry happier than people who admit fault. But even if it hurts, apologizing in response to a bad review can significantly improve your credibility and likeability.
Obviously, you shouldn’t admit to mishandling a case or behaving inappropriately, but beginning your response with a quick “I’m so sorry to hear this” can go far. Short of apologizing, you can also express sadness or regret for their frustration. Just find some way to show sympathy.
Shama Kabani, who wrote The Zen of Social Media Marketing, told Forbes:
“People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.”
Far from making readers assume you messed up, a humble and willing attitude will make other readers more likely to assume that the negative reviewer was just a “difficult client,” and that you maybe didn’t do anything wrong.
Invite the reviewer to discuss the issue privately:
You might change the reviewer’s mind by reaching out to them, possibly even altering their score for you. After all, only 42% of people who complain in social media expect a reply — you have a great opportunity to surprise them with your willingness to listen.
But beyond that, you reveal to all the other potential clients reading your reviews that they can trust you to be responsive and try to make things right.
Thank them for the feedback:
Not only does it make you look good to express gratitude for a nasty review, it truly is good for you to hear complaints about your law practice. You can’t expect to ever reach the point where you please all clients all the time, but with negative feedback you can diagnose problem areas and work on them.
In fact, you should be so grateful for negative feedback, that you encourage your clients to tell you about it personally, before it becomes a social media problem. As business strategist Jay Baer puts it: To get fewer complaints you must first get more.
Ask others for positive reviews:
The best remedy for crummy reviews is to bury them in a wave of positive ones. Encourage your clients to post reviews. It’s as easy as sending out a personable text with a link.
Yelp discourages against ‘solicited reviews,’ but you can also place a Yelp badge right on your website, or encouraging clients to “find us on Yelp.”
When others see the good reviews, they won’t be bothered by a few negative ones. Those can, in fact, add credibility to the site, especially if they can see that you’ve graciously responded to those complaints.
So the next time you’re tempted to take Amanda to court because she tweeted something mean, take a deep breath and follow these six steps instead.