31 Mar 2021

Dispute Resolution

Business advice – how to deal with negative online reviews

In business today, getting customers to leave you positive online reviews is a valuable commercial currency. Whatever sector you are in, having good online reviews can cement existing business relationships, help to attract new clients and convince others to use your services. Bad reviews, on the other hand, can cause huge reputational damage and ultimately hit your bottom line.

Our head of dispute resolution and specialist in defamation claims, Ben Jenkins, explains what businesses can do to manage negative online reviews.

The importance of customer reviews has come to the fore during the pandemic, with consumers turning to online retailers and service providers in their droves. With 89% of customers admitting that online reviews influence their purchasing decisions[i] and 76% saying they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations[ii], it has never been so important to make sure your customers are saying good things about your business online.

However, while online ratings can be a valuable source of information for customers, some reviews can be unduly negative or unrealistically positive, which can also cause problems.

So what can be done if your business receives unfair criticism online or is being targeted with fake online reviews?

Fake reviews

Fake reviews can be very dangerous as they impact the credibility of your brand by reporting bad service where there is none. Even if customers spot that the actual review is fake, this can be enough to put them off as it can call into question the trustworthiness of all the other genuine, more positive reviews about your business.

Business owners can sometimes feel powerless to confront negative reviews on Google and other online platforms, but if a review is clearly fake, it can be reported to the platform administrators and they should remove them. See Google’s criteria for the removal of online reviews here.

Tell-take signs of a fake review include:

  • If the reviewer does not provide profile information or has inconsistent reviewing method, you could be dealing with a computerised persona.
  • If they include links to third party websites or products in an attempt to draw customers to competitors or unprotected sites.
  • If the review message is non-specific, repeated as new reviews for other businesses and is clearly written in/translated from a different language.

What if I don’t agree with a negative review – can it be removed?

While it is acceptable to have fake reviews removed, simply censoring negative reviews should be avoided at all costs, even if you strongly disagree with a particular piece of criticism that has been posted online. 62% of consumers say they will not support brands that engage in review censorship.

Authenticity and transparency are important factors that consumers look for in reviews and interestingly, slight imperfections in review scores seem to hold more swaying power, with six out of ten consumers saying they would continue to do more research on products that have perfect, five star reviews. It could therefore do more harm than good if all negative reviews were removed, leaving only the positive ones to be read.

So should I just leave it?

While it can be galling to see a review that you feel is unfounded left up online for everyone else to read, you must remember that everyone has the right to freedom of expression and all businesses can expect some level of criticism from time to time. In many cases, it is worth simply taking the higher ground and responding carefully to the review, feeling safe in the knowledge that one negative review is likely to be negated by several positive ones.

However, there are some negative comments which could cause serious financial and reputational damage to a business. A negative comment becomes defamatory when, for example, the reviewer has posted an untruth, the review does not represent honest opinion or it is deliberately misleading the reader. Malicious examples like these may need more forceful and immediate action so it is worth considering legal action.

If a business were to take someone to court for posting a defamatory review, the business would have to prove that the comment was defamatory and that they had suffered financial loss as a result.

Is it a good idea to take legal action?

Clearly, this is a decision not to be taken lightly. While legal action is sometimes essential to avoid significant reputational damage, there are examples of cases which have gone very badly for businesses.

A British firm of solicitors recently sued a former client for defamation after he left a negative Trustpilot review accusing them of being ‘another scam solicitor’ and ‘a waste of money’, statements that they believed to be unfounded.

Initially, it seemed that they had done the right thing by taking the matter to court as the firm was awarded £25,000 damages by the High Court in London. However, the company was soon bombarded with dozens of one-star ratings from outraged members of the public who had read about the Judgment in the national news. Trustpilot had to ban new reviews from being posted on the law firm’s review page, but not before the firm’s overall rating had dropped to 2.1 stars.

The online backlash to the successful defamation claim has led to the incident being described on Twitter as ‘one of the greatest acts of self-sabotage in recent corporate history’.

So what can I do to mitigate the damage?

There are a number of things that can be done to limit the damage and use online reviews to your advantage:

  • Respond to each online review individually and make sure your response is thoughtful, carefully worded and measured. Always thank them for taking the time to leave a review and where there are any negative comments, use the opportunity to address their concerns, reassure other potential customers and take the sting out of any criticism. You can also offer to take discussions offline to investigate further, to show that you take their views and experience seriously.
  • Ask your customers to leave online reviews about their positive experiences and make it as easy as possible for them, either at the point of purchase or through a personalised email campaign. Most customers will leave a review if they are asked.
  • Be transparent by sharing your online reviews on your website. This shows potential customers that your company is confident in providing high quality products and great customer service.
  • Share positive online reviews in your communications, both internally and externally, as a morale boost and recognition for your staff and to reassure and encourage other potential customers.

For advice on dealing with negative online reviews about your business, call Ben Jenkins in the dispute resolution team on 01633 244233 or email hello@hevans.com.


[i] Trustpilot 2020

[ii] Brightlocal 2020

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