Online reviews can in some cases make or break a business, so it’s no surprise that many businesses take their online reviews very, very seriously.
But some take their concern over what customers are saying about them online too far, and try to silence customer criticism with legal threats.
Others have incorporated legalese such as non-disparagement clauses into contracts that seeks to prevent them from posting negative reviews in the first place.
The issue has caught the attention of lawmakers. One bill, the Consumer Review Fairness Act, would allow states and the Federal Trade Commission to go after businesses that use these clauses to gag their customers.
But while the Consumer Review Fairness Act works its way through the legislative process, Yelp just gave businesses a good reason to think twice about threatening customers who post negative reviews.
The popular online reviews service has added a new Consumer Alert that warns users about businesses that use “questionable legal threats” to try to silence unhappy customers.
According to Yelp’s Senior VP of Corporate Communications & Public Affaris, Vince Sollitto, “Consumers don’t necessarily know that these threats are sometimes empty or meritless (and often both!), so the threat of legal action is enough to scare them into silence. We don’t think that’s right.”
The new Consumer Alert aims to make sure that Yelpers are aware of their rights, and it could dent the online reputation of businesses that Yelp believes are violating those rights.
For instance, Prestigious Pets, a pet sitting business located in Dallas, has 59 reviews on Yelp, and an enviable 4.5 star rating.
But prospective customers who visit its Yelp page are greeted with the new Consumer Alert, which they must acknowledge before being able to read the business’ reviews. Needless to say, the alert might give potential customers of Prestigious Pets pause.
Dealing with bad reviews
The good news for businesses is that bad reviews, while obviously undesirable, need not be feared.
Most reviews are positive, and even the not-so-positive ones help build authenticity and are better than no reviews. What’s more: negative reviews can be a gift.
Not only are they are a source of valuable feedback that enable businesses to improve the quality of their products and services, they can provide businesses with an opportunity to identify customers who had an unsatisfactory experience so they can attempt to rectify the situation and save the customer relationship.
The benefits of negative reviews, coupled with the steeper price Yelp is making overly aggressive and litigious businesses pay for intimidating unhappy customers, mean that businesses have no reason not to try making lemonade when online reviews hand them lemons.