Responding to Negative Reviews: Sticks, Stones, and Solutions

Gone Fishin’

Whether you own a mom-and-pop bait shop in Minnesota or a Fortune 500 real estate development company in Miami, no one likes a negative review – and this goes double for law firms, most of which depend on quality referrals and word-of-mouth exposure to increase their client base and revenue stream. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to verify the authenticity of the reviewer or the experience that they are detailing, yet recent research strongly suggests that consumers rely heavily on online reviews. According to Bright Local, who surveyed 2,104 individuals from the United States (90%) and Canada (10%) from May to June in 2014, 88% of internet consumers admitted to reading online customer reviews to verify the performance of a local business, and 39% of those who consult reviews do so regularly. Furthermore, 72% of those surveyed affirmed that quality reviews lead them to trust a local business more. Lastly, and definitely most surprisingly, 88% of participants said that they trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations. The internet is a fascinating place.

So, not only are more and more people reading online reviews, but they are also increasingly relying on them as a trusted source of information that will likely influence their decision making just as much as their own friends and family members, if not more. Lawyers already work in an industry where the stakes are extremely high and the players can be quick to anger or judgment, and this trend of increasing trust in online reviews could threaten the integrity, bottom line, and potential for growth of many attorneys’ practice.

Yet, while getting negative attention — especially for unwarranted or unsubstantiated claims — might seem bad, many of these “trolls” are merely casting out their lines praying that you’ll take the bait. It’s usually at this point where things can go from annoying to catastrophic.

How to Respond to Negative Reviews: Best Practices

The initial reaction upon receiving a negative review is anger, and this is totally natural. After all, you’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into building your law firm and fostering relationships with your past, current, and potential clients. And to have those relationships threatened by a review from a single disgruntled client, opposing attorney, or outright fictional persona can be frustrating to say the least.

Instead of hastily eviscerating that reviewer, though, let’s take a look at how to respond to a negative review to ensure that we maintain a professional online persona for ourselves and our business at all times — and turn problems into opportunities.

  1. Remain Calm: Never reply before you’ve had the chance to cool down, carefully examine the situation, and thoughtfully consider your response. Count to ten and think about the long-term ramifications of what you are about to say. There’s no telling how many people are going to read your response, so you want to make absolutely sure that your reply is representative of how you comport yourself on a personal and professional level.
  2. Do a Little Research: Many unscrupulous competitors are betting on the fact that your online audience won’t take the time to conduct their due diligence and will automatically assume that whatever they’re reading is honest and authentic. It’s possible that you’ve never had any prior dealings with the source of a review or that this reviewer is actually a persona that has been completely fabricated by a competitor ― what millennials call “catfishing.” This makes it all the more important that you follow up with the source to first determine whether or not they are actually a lead or client. If so, proceed appropriately. If not, politely inform the reviewer (and by extension, your entire audience) that it doesn’t appear as though you have ever had any interaction with one another and ask them to please provide documentation proving otherwise. But be absolutely sure that this person is neither a client or currently in your lead funnel.
  3. Have a Little Humility: If and when you are able to verify the identity of the reviewer by researching your firm’s files of leads and clients, the next step is to verify the legitimacy of their claims. If you determine that their position is warranted, let them know that you understand their position and that you and your firm are taking appropriate measures to constantly improve. Sometimes constructive criticism is just that: constructive, and it never hurts to humble yourself before your audience by admitting the occasional mistake, especially if that mistake was made in the pursuit of justice. If you disagree with their position, do so politely and at least allow for the possibility that things could have been handled differently. Your response isn’t about winning an argument; it is about appealing to your larger audience.
  4. Leverage Your Opportunities: Let’s not forget that some mistakes are more than just one-time things. Occasionally, a negative review can get to the heart of a serious issue within your firm, such as poor customer service, slow response time, or less-than-accommodating office space. Some of these issues are easily fixable through instituting more professional and/or client-centered employee policies. In these cases, you can make the necessary adjustments and then let your entire audience know that you’ve taken steps to remedy the issue. This lets your potential client base know that you’re serious about running a tight ship and that you will take necessary steps to turn a negative situation into a positive one. Your perceived flexibility is your friend, whereas coming off as bullish or obstinate will ensure that potential clients look elsewhere.
  5. Keep It Short and Sweet: There’s no need to dispute claims point-by-point in your response. The truly important thing is that you’re responding in the first place and that you’re taking actions that will be perceived in a positive light. Stay on topic, avoid incendiary language, and keep your response as brief as possible (preferably no longer than one or two relatively short paragraphs). Longer responses tend to elicit further debate and will also make you appear defensive to your larger intended audience.
  6. Silence Speaks Volumes: Regardless of whether you agree with the negative review, you should always take the time to respond in a thoughtful and compassionate manner. If you don’t, your silence could be mistaken for acquiescence. Failing to respond can also make you seem aloof, disorganized, irresponsible, or too proud to admit fault, even when the evidence presented indicates otherwise. This isn’t a winning approach in the courtroom, and it certainly isn’t a winning approach when dealing with negative online reviews. Always reply to reviews as soon as possible, even when (and perhaps especially if) that review doesn’t seem to dignify a response.

In short, don’t shirk your responsibility, and don’t get too defensive. In many instances, the reviewer truly believes in their side of the story, and discrediting or dismissing their feelings will only make you look petty and your firm appear self-righteous.

Responding to Positive Reviews: An Oft-Overlooked Best Practice

Like negative reviews, you should always take the time to reply to positive reviews in a timely and conscientious fashion. However, in this instance, your initial feelings upon reading such a review will likely be happiness and excitement rather than anger, dread, or anxiety. Here are a few tips for keeping positive review responses even-keeled and professional.

  1. Keep Your Emotions in Check: Be sure to harness your emotions before responding so you avoid coming off as overly enthusiastic or conceited. It can be very easy to start believing your own good press, but this never comes off well in the digital landscape. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your positive reviews, but remember to stay humble and focus on properly thanking the individual for taking the time to craft a review and offer positive feedback.
  2. Address the Review Directly: Know that when you respond to any review, whether it be positive or negative, you are also responding in the court of public opinion. Keep that in mind, but make sure that you are speaking directly to the reviewer, thanking them for their kind words and ensuring them that they played a large role in whatever professional successes you were able to achieve together. Add complimentary language that lets them know clients like them reaffirm your belief in the system and your professional resolve to seek out justice.
  3. Reference Your Firm: You don’t have to throw it in the internet’s face that your firm and your firm alone was able to assist the reviewer in question, but it is smart to reference your practice by name at least once in your response. By associating this positivity with your firm, you can ensure that your audience makes a more permanent mental connection between the reviewer’s experience and your practice.
  4. Make “It” Known: It’s likely that your reviewer’s legal needs have now been met, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your response as a golden opportunity to subtly solicit other quality clients. In your conclusion, be sure to remind your reviewer (and your entire audience) of your firm’s unique value should they ever need further legal help. Feel free to mention that you offer free consultations or contingent fees or that you are accepting new clients or referrals from your colleagues in the legal field — but only if you can do so naturally.

Positive reviews are much more fun to respond to than negative ones, but that doesn’t mean you should simply bask in the glory without taking full advantage of the opportunity to reach out to new clients. Address the reviewer directly, but be sure to remain subtly inclusive of your larger potential audience, and always spell out the relationship between the positive experiences described in the review with the name and any relevant unique selling points of your firm.

LaFleur: Helping Law Firms Turn Online Reviews into Opportunities

While some within the industry would refer to online review responses as an aspect of reputation management, here at LaFleur Legal Marketing, we think of it as an integral component of a holistic digital marketing strategy. Our team is experienced in conducting review audits across nearly every platform, determining the facts through independent research and by speaking directly to our clients, and responding in a way that not only resolves the matter but does so in a way that enhances your firm’s brand and creates new opportunities.

Furthermore, our email automation tools and strategies help attorneys stay in touch with their most satisfied clients and encourage them to leave more positive reviews on the sites that matter most to your law firm’s practice, such as AVVO, Google, Facebook, Yelp, and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about how online reviews can influence your brand and your business — or any other aspect of online legal marketing — please give us a call today at (888) 222-1512 or complete the brief form on this page and we will be in touch shortly. In the meantime, be sure to respond to online reviews politely and in a timely fashion only after you’ve had the chance to get your emotions in check and formulate a plan of action that both addresses your reviewers concerns and paints your firm in a positive light.

Related Articles:

Digital Marketing’s Role in Potential Client Decision-Making

Recent Trends in Social Media and Their Applications for Digital Marketing

Exercising Discretion: Avoiding Epic Social Media Fails 


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