Turning A Negative Into A Positive

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“If you choose to respond to the negative review, a carefully crafted response can indeed turn a negative into a positive.”

There is no doubt that positive online reviews can boost your legal practice. Consumers frequently search reviews online for service technicians, schools, hotels, appliances, medical practices, and, yes, even lawyers. If you or your firm has a social media presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Avvo or similar platforms, clients have an easy way to post a review.

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As effective as positive client reviews can be, a negative review can be just as damaging. There appear to be two schools of thought on how to handle negative reviews. One is to ignore it and hope that the subsequent positive reviews will drown out the one negative. The other is to respond to the negative review. While ignoring the review may be the safest course from an ethical standpoint, it may not be the best choice from a marketing standpoint and you may be missing an opportunity. If you choose to respond to the negative review, a carefully crafted response can indeed turn a negative into a positive.

Suppose you receive the following post on Google+: “I had a consultation with this attorney, who said he’d call me back about representation. When I didn’t hear back, I called the firm several times and when I finally reached someone, they were very rude. Then, they told me they couldn’t help me. Don’t waste your time on this firm.

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You do not believe this is a fair assessment of what happened. Not only did you make several attempts to call this person back, but it turned out that the information the prospective client gave you was false and you made the professional decision not to represent someone you could not trust. As much as you would like to set the record straight, the ethics rules prevent you from sharing this information in response. The information you received or obtained, even during the time you were contemplating representation, is confidential under Rule 1.6. A client does not waive confidentiality by posting an online review about their matter. Moreover, attorneys have been disciplined for revealing confidences in response to negative reviews.

So what can you do? As stated above, doing nothing is always an option, but because this reviewer suggests that you were unresponsive, ignoring it could send the wrong message or reinforce the negative review. If you choose not to respond, then you could encourage positive client feedback. At some point, the positive reviews will more than outweigh a single negative review.

Another option may be to contact the review site and see if they will remove the post. This approach rarely works, even if you can prove the review is false. Review platforms want consumers to trust the reviews and if the platform frequently removed or squelched negative feedback when requested, reviews would be less trustworthy. In other words, negative reviews demonstrate authenticity of the review platform.

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Since getting the post removed is nearly impossible, another possibility is to try to fix the issue with the client or potential client and then ask the client to repost a favorable review. That approach may work on occasion, but it is not likely to work with the example post above.

Alternatively, consider responding to negative reviews with a positive, professional post. Perhaps even apologize for the client or prospective client’s dissatisfaction or offer to communicate with the individual directly to try to find a resolution, depending upon the circumstances. Do not attack the reviewer, be defensive, or try to demonstrate how the review is inaccurate or wrong. In our experience, these kinds of responses add fuel to the fire and will in many cases result in an escalation of the negative comments by the reviewer, who may feel he needs to defend his post.

Consider, instead, some or all of the following sample language: “We take all feedback seriously and always strive to satisfy each and every client. Our clients and potential clients are very important to us. We are sorry you were not satisfied with your experience. Although we could not assist you in this matter, we certainly would welcome the opportunity to use any feedback to assist us in improving our client service. Please feel free to reach out to discuss your concerns with us directly.”

The point is not to argue with or convince the reviewer to change his mind, but rather, to send a message to a larger audience. Anyone reading this response will understand that you have your clients’ interests at heart and you are professional, responsive and willing to do what is necessary to keep your clients satisfied. So, instead of fighting (or fearing) negative online client reviews, learn to use them to your advantage. A carefully crafted, professional response can turn a negative review into a positive impression with prospective clients. Deanna Brocker and Doug Brocker

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