When you need to sue over a bad online review

One of the biggest skills required in today’s social-media powered world is the ability to respond properly to negative comments.

I’ve written before on how to handle negative online reviews and from a customer service stand point, I think we all understand the necessity to respond quickly.

Today I want to emphasize two things:

  • Don’t start ignoring what is said about your business online, and
  • Probe deeply enough that you verify and understand what people are writing about.

Don’t hit the mute button

As painful and time consuming as it can be, never stop monitoring social media and review sites. I know that it’s tempting, but there is too much at stake and unfortunately, unlike a comment someone makes in person, things said online don’t go away.

To my second point, if someone is criticizing your business, you need to trace it back to the incident or interaction that caused the problem. To illustrate the importance of this, I want to tell you about a recent court case where the owner of a local jewelry store sued an employee of a competitor and was awarded $34,500.

Back in 2013, Stephen Leigh Jewelers in Quincy, Massachusetts, was slammed in a long review posted in Yelp. Fortunately, Stephen Blumberg, who owns the victimized jewelry store, took the time to research what happened.

After doing some internal detective work, Blumberg concluded that the incident described in the review never happened. A Yelp user named “Adam J.” penned the piece; Blumberg decided he needed to figure out who this was so he started to go over more reviews posted by Adam J. He contacted other businesses that have been reviewed by Adam J. and started to narrow down the suspects.

“I did do research for several months. I knew after two or three that I was right on the target,” Blumberg told the Patriot Ledger newspaper.

The culprit turned out to be Adam Jacobs, who works at Toodie’s Fine Jewelry, a competitor. A jury decided that Jacobs has to pay Blumberg $34,500 for posting a false review and the emotional distress it caused.

Get a full understanding

This story really drives home the point that following up on bad reviews is mandatory. First, discovering the cause of problems gives you the power to prevent them from reoccurring. Second, people will post lies about your business and you need to be able to stop them and even sue for damages when it’s appropriate.

Don’t merely apologize, offer a discount coupon, and move on – understand what really happened…or didn’t happen!