Last month, I wrote about Why Local Businesses Should Be Like the Jerk, which examined the basics associated with businesses being listed in local listings and results. Now I want to take a look at the logical next consideration: How can businesses respond when they receive less-than-favorable reviews?

Being listed is one thing, but once your business gets noticed, some customers may post negative reviews about it. What’s a local business owner to do about this unwanted publicity?

Based on our first-hand experience and observations of other local web publishers, local businesses tend to react in one of three ways:

  • Flame the publishers: Businesses that receive poor customer reviews on local sites sometimes contact the site owners or publishers directly, asking them to remove a negative post or, in some cases, remove their business from the site altogether. This is often accompanied by some mention of our esteemed legal system. Many local business owners and their legal counsel are not well-versed in the immunities available under federal law to publishers of websites that provide open forums for both customers and those same local business owners to post messages. Federal law shields these publishers from liabilities associated with messages posted by third parties.

    Still, in certain cases, publishers can and do oblige, especially if the negative post violates the site’s terms of use. Sometimes it is a judgment call, and placing the publisher in the middle of sparring factions is not the best solution for anyone. If the post is simply a freely expressed opinion, such as ‘the service at this business was disappointing,’ most site owners stand firm, because a local site’s life and legitimacy involves providing a forum for all valid opinions.

  • Get directly involved: Better would be to view the review as constructive criticism pointing out issues that may need to be addressed. It is often difficult for businesses to know how customers perceive their product or service, and here are customers interested enough to tell them. Granted, some reviewers write untrue reviews for unkind motives, but that brush is too often used to paint over legitimate reviews. Presume innocence until proven guilty.

    Engage the reviewer and the community in a conversation online. Comment on the review if that functionality is available, or write another review responding to the first, but always clearly state you are the owner. Your potential customers are reading the reviews, and this is a way for everyone to see there is a human behind the business and that issues are being addressed. There is a growing trend of businesses using this new medium to reach out and extend some old fashioned customer service. These interactions often lead to positive outcomes, with consumers being impressed that the business owners cared enough to respond.

    Avoid the temptation to become directly involved by writing a review pretending to be a customer. These are easily spotted and do more harm than good for the integrity of the business.

  • Simply let it play out. As hard as it might be for a business owner to read a negative consumer review about the business, odds are good that if the business is a good one, other consumers will weigh in with positive views to balance or even contest the negative ones. With the wisdom of crowds, the community generally outs the truth.

There are more than 15 million businesses and more than 300 million people visiting them in this country. Not all of the visits will be perfect. Some customers will make the effort to express what they thought, good and bad. From there, the decision is up to the businesses on how to respond. Talking about the issues is always best. Turning an unhappy customer into a happy one is good for business. It will be interesting to continue monitoring what local businesses do to ensure the accuracy of their core data and address the expressed opinions of their local customers.

Chris Linnett is director of Open List for Marchex, where he blogs regularly about all things local at LocalPoint, in addition to his regular column for Search Engine Land. The Locals Only column appears weekly at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: is director of Open List for Marchex, where he blogs regularly about all things local at LocalPoint, in addition to his regular column for Search Engine Land. The Locals Only column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

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