The growth of online customer reviews has greatly impacted both small and large law firms. How you respond to negative and positive feedback online is critical to managing your law firm’s reputation. Let’s take a look at some best practices for handling customer feedback online.
Positive vs. Negative Feedback
Online feedback can be roughly placed into two categories: positive and negative feedback. Positive feedback is pretty self-explanatory and almost always welcome. However, negative feedback can include genuinely negative customer experiences and malicious feedback posted by trolls and unscrupulous competitors. While malicious feedback is rare, it does occur and you need to be prepared to handle it.
Response Action Plan
Every law firm should have an action plan for handling online feedback, especially negative reviews. Since negative reviews can spread quickly via social media, your quick and effective response is important if you want to protect your reputation.
- Authorized responders. One of the first things you want to do is decide who will be responsible for responding to online feedback. By controlling who responds, you can maintain more control over how that response is formulated. The last thing you want is to have everyone at your law firm responding to negative feedback. Should someone respond in an “off the cuff” manner it could risk damaging the image of your firm. Authorize one or two responders who you can trust to use tact and remain professional.
- Response guidelines. When it comes to negative feedback, you want to equip your responders with a well written script. This script can be used as the initial response to a negative review so that you have more time to investigate and provide a more detailed and customized response at a later date. For example, a standard response might be “We’re sorry for your negative experience. Please contact us directly so that we can resolve this issue.” This gives you an opportunity to 1) reach out to the reviewer, 2) take the conversation offline, and 3) gather all the facts so that you can take appropriate action.
- Rapid response. It is very important that you respond quickly to negative reviews. Using a “canned” response as your initial post can help get the ball rolling quickly without the risk of saying the wrong thing. It’s advisable that you respond to negative reviews in at least 48 hours.
While it’s important to quickly and effectively respond to negative reviews and comments online, it’s also important that you respond to positive reviews.
Thank the reviewer. Take the time to thank the reviewer for leaving a review. And let them know that your law firm enjoyed serving them.
Ask for permission to share. Ask the positive reviewer if you can share their comments on your website. These types of testimonies can help improve the image of your law firm by providing proof that others have benefited from your services.
Bad faith reviewers exist. They may be competitors trying to tarnish your reputation or they may be irate clients spreading false information. In either case, you should never jump to conclusions. Always investigate any serious claims made in a review.
- Take if offline. Ask the reviewer to contact you offline via phone or email so that you can investigate their claims further.
- Ask for names. Ask the reviewer for the names of anyone they claim was involved in the incident.
- Ask for dates. Ask for the exact date when the alleged incident took place.
- Conduct the investigation. Really conduct an investigation. Talk to the people who were allegedly involved and draw your own conclusions based on the evidence.
- Make an announcement. This one is tricky. If a reviewer’s serious claims were made in a very public way—i.e. hundreds or thousands of people heard about it—it may be in your best interest to announce what your findings were after your investigation. This is important because you want anyone who comes across the initial review/complaint to see that you conducted an investigation and found that there was no wrongdoing or that you found wrongdoing and attempted to right the wrong.
No matter how hard you’ve tried to treat all clients fairly there will eventually be a day when someone in your firm makes a mistake. When that happens you may need to issue a public apology. How you apologize will determine if you further damage your reputation or if you gain more respect. Below are a few tips on doing apologies the right way.
- Avoid non-apologies. The worst thing you can do is issue a “non-apology.” A non-apology is when you say that you’re sorry that someone else felt offended or took your good intentions the wrong way.
- Keep it short. Any apology issued by your law firm should be brief and to the point. Don’t belabor the point and don’t beg for forgiveness. Simply state that you made a mistake and make clear how you’ve taken action to right the wrong. For example, you might say “It has come to our attention that one of our associates engaged in unprofessional behavior that is not acceptable to our firm. We are sorry this happened and we’ve taken action to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The person who engaged in this unprofessional behavior no longer works with us.”
- Always take responsibility. Even if your associate did something you would never agree to, always take responsibility for their actions and promise to take action to make sure that it never happens again. People respect law firms and other businesses that are willing to take responsibility for their failings.
Managing your reputation online will require that you build a positive brand and properly respond to the negative reviews that will inevitably come your way.
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