The federal Consumer Review Fairness Act of 2016 goes into effect on March 14, 2017. This law prohibits any agreement that restricts consumers from posting negative reviews online.
Companies love positive reviews and hate negative reviews. So, in the past some businesses tried to “discourage” negative reviews contractually having a consumer agree not to post a negative review under penalty of an agreed fine. Others tried to be more intellectually creative and had the consumer grant copyright ownership to any online review so that the business could cause the review to be removed because it infringed the copyright in the review now owned by the business.
The new law makes exceptions for confidential information protected by law. Also, if a consumer posts a negative review on your site, you are allowed to remove that review.
Best practices for dealing with negative reviews include:
- Respond to the reviewer privately and attempt to solve the problem and ask them to remove the review. Be careful with the communication because the recipient might choose to post it publicly.
- Respond publicly on the review site, but be careful that the response is professional, and demonstrates the company’s desire to provide excellent service. Just denying an accusation contained in a negative review might backfire. However, if the review relates to medical treatment then much caution must be taken to ensure that the public response does not violate HIPAA.
- Garner positive reviews so that the weight shows overall positive experiences. However, don’t offer any incentives to customers for the positive reviews that might violate the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
- If the negative review is defamatory, libelous, or slanderous, then legal action can be taken.
It’s important to prepare legally compliant procedures for obtaining and managing both positive and negative reviews online.