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How to handle a bad on-line review

Call a lawyer, ignore or resolve? What's a contractor’s best move?


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November 14, 2017 by John Bleasby

It’s happened to many contractors, maybe even you. A past or current client goes on-line to tell the world they’re not happy with your work. What do you do? Ignore it? Probably not a great idea. In the world of the internet, a negative review or comment can stay in the public domain forever. So what action can put a silver lining in that cloud?

Unresolved complaints can spiral into negative on-line comments

Call in the lawyers?
As recently described in a recent Canadian Contractor post, one contractor went the legal route by suing for defamation. However, it appears to have not only cost him large legal fees, but his company’s reputation has suffered badly too, as observed in several new on-line criticisms. There has to be a better way.

Mediate, mitigate,  but do not litigate!
Canadian Contractor looked to some experts in the field of both the contracting business and the world of on-line marketing for some solid advice.

First, Reiner Hoyer, also known as The Reno Coach
“I think most of the time the contractor would know something was coming,” says Hoyer. “If a job goes off the rails, it’s not like it happened overnight and the next day the client wrote a review. The relationship goes off before that; people go after each other, work stops, there are disagreements over the quality of the work maybe, a lot of different things.”

That’s a good point. A bad review or comment for a contractor normally doesn’t come out of nowhere. Hoyer’s solution? “My counsel to someone in the contracting industry would be that if things start to get out of hand and a dispute gets heated, call in some help to work things out, a third party to mediate the problem.” Hoyer claims that acting as mediator himself, he has had positive results. “Over the years I have managed to prevent a lot of clients from going on-line and writing negative reviews.”

It’s a business decision, says Hoyer. “Contractors have to see the bigger picture.  It may cost some money to make the client happy, but it’s short-sighted to take a dispute too far and let it go public. And sometimes the contractor is at fault and makes a mistake. You’ve got to pay to fix it. That’s a lot better than something going on-line and spoiling your reputation. Once something goes public on-line, others can pile on and the rating for a contractor can downhill very quickly. The contractor has much more to lose than the client.”

A digital marketing expert agrees
“Typically, when it gets to the on-line level, the contractor already knows there is an on-going dispute,” says Marc Hill, president and founder of Digital Giants, a full service B2B digital marketing agency base in Barrie, ON.

However, if the comment already lives on-line, Hill also says it’s critical to get on to the issue immediately. “Address the problem as quickly as possible. I would get in touch through a back channel and see if you can work it out,” says Hill. “However, if the dispute is protracted, I would address it on-line saying, ‘We’re reaching out.’ If the client refuses to be reasonable, then absolutely, give your side of the story. Also, if you have an active community, past customers will come to your defense. They’ll fill in for you.”

Taking complaints seriously means having a professional, resolution-based strategy

Negative comments out of the blue?
Sometimes you don’t see the bad review coming. Dealing with it head-on can be effective, if done professionally. An appliance repair service in a small Ontario town with otherwise positive ratings was recently confronted with this negative review.

“Terrible customer service, rude and rushed. Complained the entire time he was here …. I don’t recommend him to anyone. Not worth the $70 service call.

In response, the repair service explained on-line that the customer was not at home for the booked service appointment and did not answer the phone. The service technician eventually made contact, returned a second time, inspected the broken appliance, and gave an estimate for the repairs. The client chose not to proceed and refused to pay for the service call. The appliance repair service appears reasonable under the circumstances, unlike the customer.

Even reviewers can get a negative review!
Sometimes an on-line reviewing site itself has to deal with negative comments. Recently, one of our readers posted criticisms of the well-known referral site HomeStars on the Canadian Contractor comment page. HomeStars President Nancy Peterson wasted no time addressing the remarks in an on-line response. It’s a text book example of how to manage a difficult situation.

Thank you for your comments. At HomeStars, we have always been committed to protecting homeowners: in fact, the site was created 11 years ago to help homeowners make better hiring decisions. Every verified homeowner who has hired a service professional on HomeStars and posted a review is checked to ensure they actually hired and paid for the services of the pro they are reviewing. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and if the homeowner is not happy with a company’s service, it is their right to express it, and it is up to the company to make it right. We also enable service professionals to investigate a review they have a dispute with. We do not remove reviews – negative or positive- unless requested by the homeowner, or if review guidelines have been contravened, as is clearly outlined in our terms and conditions. “

When dealing with unhappy clients, always react with courtesy and professionalism, whether in public or private discussions. Letting things get out of hand can cost even more money than settling, and can do serious damage to your reputation.

Did you read our series “Social Media Marketing for the Working Contractor”?

Part 1: Maximizing Instagram with videos
Part 2: Getting noticed on Facebook
Part 3: Twitter anyone?
Part 4: Getting the timing right

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