Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution

Edit or Remove Reviews and Respond

Before you write that scathing review, before you threaten to sue, stop, cool down and read this article. It could save you a world of trouble.

About a week ago, Mike Blumenthal drew my attention to this Google Maps Help Group Thread in which a citizen was attempting to avoid being sued by a business owner over a negative review. This litigious situation is becoming increasingly common news and I’ve determined that 2 components go into its creation.

Component 1 is the unhappy customer who feels he has no recourse to the business owner whose company served him rancid butter, overcharged him for a tuneup or treated him with unpardonable rudeness. In the absence of personal confrontation, the unhappy customer vents his angst at one of the many user review entities, generally never having made any attempt to alert the management or the owner to his dissatisfaction.

Component 2 is the mortified business owner who sees his professional reputation damaged or his business’ name tarnished and, in a desperate effort to punish or silence the person who has embarrassed him, jumps from 0 to 10 by threatening to sue…without a single effort at peaceful conflict resolution ever having been attempted.

I have no idea if what the customer in the Google Maps Help Group thread wrote in his review would legally be considered defamation or libel. I’m not a lawyer, but I am interested in the process of mediation and I have two questions to ask:

To Reviewers:
Do you need to stand by your words on principle? Do you feel you are protecting the public from dangerous or criminal business owners, or is it possible that your experience with a business was the result of someone having a bad day…maybe even the result of you having a bad day? Must your review remain intact, word for word, for the common good and are you willing to go to court to defend free speech and the public over your negative review of your neighborhood pizza place? Or would you be willing to seek a personal resolution that both you and the business owner walk away from feeling relatively okay? I ask you.

To Business Owners:
Do you really want to go to court? Few people enjoy it. Do you really want to take hours, weeks, months or years of time out of your busy schedule to sit anxiously in comfortless legal offices and courtrooms? Do you really want to hand over wads of money to a lawyer? What will you win at the end of all the hoopla and irretrievable wasted time? The disappearance of the negative review so that no further potential customers can see it? What if you could reach that goal without having to bother the justice system or pay out your life’s blood to an attorney? Would you be willing to take this easier route? I ask you.

There will be cases in which negative reviews are part of a vicious and illegal surfeit of spam (see locksmiths) and must be dealt with legally or algorithmically, and there will be cases in which large companies are so rich and powerful (and so totally clueless about the finesse involved in positive reputation management) that they will simply try to crush anyone who annoys them. But I’m not going to speak to those extremes. I’m speaking here to the average dissatisfied customer and the average embarrassed business owner. I want to give you the tools for sane and decent conflict resolution so you can get back to your normal life and clear the courtroom of cases that simply don’t belong there.

Edit, Delete and Owner Response – These Are Your Tools for Effective Conflict Resolution in the Land of User Reviews

So, you’ve left the negative review. You’ve really told it like it is, sounding off about the offending business and perhaps even adding a few colorful epithets to illustrate how you really feel about this local business. Okay. And now, the business owner has found your review and is so upset, he’s just informed you that he’s going to sue you. He may be trying to scare you, and you may be unclear about what your actual legal rights are, but chances are, both of you would probably like the whole situation to be resolved and go away. If ‘yes’, then keep reading.

The top 8 user review entities, as defined by David Mihm’s most recent Local Search Ranking Factors report, in which I participated, each offer you different degrees of power towards bringing about a resolution that both parties ought to be able to live with.

Here’s How It Works
You, the business owner, discover a totally agonizing review that you feel is unfair to your business. Note that I say unfair. If you know your employees are goof-offs and should be fired for serving soup with a fly in it to a valued patron, a negative review is not unfair – it’s just embarrassing. Whether unfair or embarrassing, many of the top 8 review entities give you the opportunity to respond to that disgruntled customer, personally.

You, the disgruntled customer may then read the owner response and realize that he’s truly sorry for your bad experience and has a reasonable excuse for the bad experience you had with his business or is simply taking time to apologize, in hopes that your view of him and his business will soften a bit. Many of the top 8 review entities give you the opportunity to either edit your review or simply remove it.

Which Review Sites Let You Respond, Edit Or Remove?
I spent several hours researching this list to get accurate data, but if I’ve made any errors, I hope the companies will offer corrections:

Yelp
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: No
Edit Reviews: No

*This data offered as a correction by a Yelp employee recently. At the time of publication, I was given different information from a different Yelp employee.
—–

TripAdvisor
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: Yes
Edit Reviews: No

*In order to have a TripAdvisor editor delete a review, you must email them at userreviewsupport@tripadvisor.com
—–

InsiderPages
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: Yes
Edit Reviews: Yes

*To get a review deleted email customer service at customerservice@insiderpages.com and they’ll take it down for you.
—–

SuperPages
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: Yes
Edit Reviews: Yes
—–

CitySearch
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: No
Edit Reviews: Yes

*CitySearch’s review deletion policy states:
We only remove reviews that violate our terms and conditions. We do not remove reviews on request.If you want a certain review removed, because you believe it violates our terms, it can be submitted to ratings@citysearch.com.
—–

Yahoo!
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: Yes
Edit Reviews: Yes

*Yahoo’s Review Deletion Policy States:
If you wish to completely delete your review:
1. Go to the review that you wrote.
2. Click “Report Abuse.”
3. In the feedback part of the form, let us know that you would like your review deleted.
After your account information is verified, your review will be removed.

—–
Google Maps

Delete: Yes
Edit: Yes
Owner Respond: No ***SEE UPDATE, Just Below

*As was illustrated in the Google Maps Help Group thread, there may be difficulty in automatically deleting a review. The customer deleted his review from his LBC account, but it continued to appear in Google Maps and he no longer had the power to edit it to tone it down. However, as of yesterday, I noted that Google has finally deleted the offending review from Maps. So, perhaps this is a process that takes a few days. Important to know.

***As of 8/2010, Google began allowing owner responses to Google-based reviews. This represented a huge change in Google’s policy. Owners cannot respond to reviews culled from third party sources, but can now respond to all reviews left within Google Maps/Place pages.

—–

JudysBook
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: No
Edit Reviews: Yes
—–

The above list should help both business owners and their customers to understand what power is being given to them by the various review entities to communicate with one another, within the review medium, and work to reach a resolution with which both parties are satisfied.

Responding Well
I sympathize with business owners who are feeling their way around the delicate process of responding to public complaints. Expressing regret, taking responsibility or offering a meaningful explanation can be truly challenging. Let’s take a quick look at examples of how to respond poorly and how to respond well:

From A Very Bad Owner Response:

Your FALSE statements prove that you are not suited to be a food critic and I would be even more upset if I thought anyone in the valley read your garbage writing. Then again, how much skill does it take to take pictures of your lunch and write about it. Any fool with a camera phone, pen, and paper can do that. Thank you for taking the time to dine in our restaurant. I hope you can find a better parking spot next time since we have people lining up for my grandmother’s recipes with “no flavor”.

If you want to avoid looking like a self-involved and self-righteous person, avoid sarcasm and avoid shifting the blame onto the reviewer. If you follow the comments on the post I’ve linked to, you will see how foolish the business owner has made himself in the eyes of readers. Don’t do this to yourself!

Here’s a much more positive scenario described by a Yelp Reviewer who altered his negative review after receiving a positive message from the business owner:

I had reviewed Gandolfo’s in Eastlake a couple days after they opened, and they were pretty poor on their service, and I noted a lot of the details in my review. I also gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was a new store and probably just needed to get the service personnel up to speed. Then, about a month later, I got a PM from the owner inviting me to come back, and saying that they had taken to heart my comments. I went back yesterday, and they moved up from 2 stars to 4. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.”

Things are best when everyone feels all warm and fuzzy inside, definitely.

And finally, a very good Owner Response to a customer who refused to be satisfied:

After researching the situation, an Assistant. General Manager talked to the guest the day they checked out about the issues she had in her room. He asked the guest, why she didn’t let us know of these problems upon arriving to the room? The guest said she was too busy. He told her we could have moved her to another room or sent someone to re-clean her room, After all, the guest was here several days. He apologized to her and generously gave her half off her stay. She was not happy with that, but he told her that we could have corrected the problem if she had told us the first day she was here… It only takes a couple of minutes to let us know. We have maintenance and housekeeping here every day, 18 hours a day.

I would be happy to speak with the guest further.

Jim Bambrey
GM

I especially love this example, not just because it shows the concern and diligence of the business owner, but also because it makes the resounding statement that the hotel employees are there, in person, to hear from a dissatisfied guest, ready to find resolution right then and there…no need to go to a computer just to have your say. And this brings us to my final points.

Ending On A Philosophical Note
The bulk of negative reviews strike me as a product of total communication breakdown. If the customer wasn’t too shy, too uncertain or too unempowered to make their complaints known at the time of service, chances are, many negative reviews would never make it to the web. By the same token, if business owners were given the grace of a personal confrontation with an unhappy customer before reading a public condemnation of their company on the web, chances are, the fury that provokes a threat of legal action would never be ignited.

Once these negative actions have already taken place, customer and owner are left in the weak and immature position of having to hire legal mediation to resolve their issues – like hiring a baby sitter – when they probably could have settled the whole matter themselves, privately. We are all adults here.

The good news is that even when a matter like this goes public, many of the major review entities are giving the interested parties a chance to make the dialogue of resolution public, too. Both reviewer and reviewee can end up coming off as reasonable, fair and decent if the conversation is handled in an adult and rational manner. It’s win-win for everyone.

The advent of user reviews has tossed both business owners and citizens into a tumultuous new situation that nobody really asked for. The profits of the review entities are being made on the ability or inability of people to navigate the world of opinion and reputation on a public stage for all to see. Some people are carrying their new roles off with aplomb, while others are making themselves objects of ridicule. I’m sympathetic to the problems and am also quick to see the potential benefits thoughtful reviews can provide to everyone.

But, I am especially eager for people to find a happy medium of dignity in this novel scenario. The tools of conflict resolution are in your hands, and stand between you and the unseemly, unpleasant ‘solution’ of legal a-do and expenditure. Use the tools. Your life and the web will be better for it.
———–

Flickr credit to greekadman

39 Responses to “Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution”

  1. on 29 May 2009 at 3:59 pm emad

    Allowing merchants to respond both privately to the reviewer as well as publicly (so everyone can see the response) has been an important feature for us on the site since launching it.

    It definitely provides a great avenue for merchants to explain their point of view. That’s why we allow merchants to self-verify in real-time and have tools such as responding to reviews for free.

    Reviewers aren’t the only ones these embarrassed merchants sue…they will often go after the sites as well…especially when they refuse to take down a review they believe to be legitimate.

  2. on 29 May 2009 at 4:14 pm admin

    Emad,
    Thank you so much for adding YellowBot’s policies to this article. I’d like any review-oriented sites to augment this post by explaining their particular policies. It can only add benefit for people seeking resolutions. And, your point about the review entity’s position in this is a very important one I didn’t cover in the above. Thanks for bringing your perspective to that.

    So, as I understand it, Yellowbot offers owner response. Could you let me know if you allow reviewers to edit and delete their own reviews, please? That will complete the information I’d like to provide for readers.

    So nice of you to stop by!
    Miriam

  3. on 29 May 2009 at 4:45 pm emad

    YellowBot
    Owner Respond: Yes
    Edit Reviews: Yes

    Deleting Reviews is a bit more complicated:
    We do our best to make sure we don’t remove legitimate reviews but we will take a look at reviews when asked to see if they conform with our terms. We will sometimes contact the reviewer to confirm facts (on a few occassions, they were able to produce court documents demonstrating they were telling the truth).
    However, if the reviewer contacts us and asks to remove their own review, we will go ahead and remove it.

  4. on 29 May 2009 at 5:10 pm David Mihm

    Miriam, what an absolutely terrific post. You really lay out some very civil guidelines for both reviewers and business owners and your suggestions/examples for how a business owner should respond are *exactly* what I would recommend as well. Just a great post.

  5. on 29 May 2009 at 11:59 pm admin

    Thanks for coming back, Emad.

    I really appreciate the mention of human supervision involved in your review process when deletion is in question. I find that to be a significant sign of YellowBot’s interest in offering a good, human reviewed product. Thanks for the clarification!

  6. on 30 May 2009 at 12:01 am admin

    Thank you, David! And I so appreciate you having sphunn this. That made me really happy!

    I looked very closely at the LSRF list while writing this. It was helpful to me to know what peers deem the most prevalent review sites, and my own list, as I recall, pretty much agreed with the general consensus on this.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. on 30 May 2009 at 5:56 pm Cathy

    Miriam –

    Terrific advice, beautifully written. Your Edit/Response Guide is most helpful. This is a ‘must read’ for small business owners. :)

  8. on 30 May 2009 at 9:12 pm admin

    Hi Cathy,
    It’s lovely to see you here and I’m so glad you found this a useful post. I imagine, in your line of work, you have all kinds of experience by now in dealing with various review situations but maybe this will be helpful to new florists who are just starting their life on the web. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Miriam


  9. […] resolution is the theme my friend Miriam chose for Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution. From her superior article: The advent of user reviews has tossed both business owners and citizens […]

  10. on 03 Jun 2009 at 3:30 pm Alex McArthur

    Miriam,
    Thanks for putting this together. I’m sure it took some time.

  11. on 03 Jun 2009 at 3:33 pm admin

    Welcome, Alex and I hope this article will come in handy for you if you ever have to deal with this situation. Appreciated you stopping by!


  12. […] Miriam Ellis on conflict resolution & review policies of major local search portals […]


  13. […] your negative reviews. Turn them into opportunity, as I touch on above. And read this post about responding to reviews, in which Miriam Ellis details which local sites allow business owners to reply to negative […]


  14. […] directories like Yelp allow you to join the online conversation about your business—you can address complaints publicly (and directly) and thank customers […]


  15. […] directories like Yelp allow you to join the online conversation about your business—you can address complaints publicly (and directly) and thank customers […]


  16. […] respond. The crew over at SEO Igloo has developed a list of site interaction options in their Respond to Reviews […]


  17. […] Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo | 5/29/09 […]


  18. […] Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo | 5/29/09 […]


  19. […] bullet:Miriam Ellis always amazes me with her perspective on local search stories and I have found this specific post on reputation management regarding reviews very interesting: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution […]

  20. on 27 Jan 2010 at 4:06 pm Jason

    An excellent post for any small business owner or consultant. I found the list about which providers let you respond especially helpful, and I can’t help but like the examples you used. Thanks again – I’ll be sharing this article!

  21. on 27 Jan 2010 at 4:18 pm admin

    Thank you, Jason!
    I’ve gotten such nice feedback on this post over the past year, and it has even made it into the finals of the SEMMY awards (an industry awards entity in which good pieces of writing are acknowledged and voted upon). I’m really gratified that this piece has helped so many people and hope it will be useful to the people with whom you share it. Thank you for taking the time to leave such a positive comment!
    Miriam

  22. on 01 Feb 2010 at 7:36 pm Local Search SEMMY

    […] Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution Miriam Ellis, SEO Igloo | 5/29/09 […]

  23. on 07 Feb 2010 at 9:46 am May ‘09: Best Search/Marketing Posts

    […] Miriam Ellis/SEO Igloo: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution […]


  24. […] in the process). From here, the wonderful Miriam Ellis wrote a guide on her SEO Igloo Blog entitled Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution in which she identified the process of fixing a tainted image. Now, understand that it is […]


  25. […] Edit Remove and Respond To Reviews […]

  26. on 04 Mar 2010 at 10:42 pm Matthew Hunt

    The best way to deal with negative reviews is to get lots of good ones. Business need to proactive on getting reviews from their customers and offering ethical bribes to do so.

    The best defense is a strong offense. :)


  27. […] Another incredible resource in responding to negative reviews is a piece written last year by Miriam Ellis: Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools For Conflict Resolution. […]

  28. on 09 May 2010 at 3:35 am How To Handle Bad Reviews

    […] Here is post from Miriam Ellis (who I have not yet had the pleasure to speak with to yet), however her site is chalk full of great advice which I read all the time.  She’s often offers tons real life advice for small businesses marketing online: http://www.solaswebdesign.net/wordpress/?p=502 […]


  29. […] across a popular article I wrote last year that summarized business owners’ capabilities to edit, remove or respond to user reviews in the diverse top review entities. He wasn’t looking to hire me, he just wanted some advice […]

  30. on 22 Jul 2010 at 1:01 pm Paul Sherland

    Hi Miriam,

    This is a great post and the list of review sites and review owner rules is especially useful. Let me go a little further though and suggest that businesses make it a regular practice to ask their loyal customers for reviews and recommendations. When they do, they gradually build online reputation insurance against the occasional negative review. Certainly, when a negative review does appear, it’s a great idea for business owners to try to contact the reviewer to resolve the situation, but if the situation can’t be saved, an pattern of great Web reviews will minimize any damage. And research has shown that the occasional negative review only adds credibility to the positive ones.

    The other thing I wanted to mention is that there are lots of other review sites in addition to the eight you mentioned. Some like Dealerrater.com and AVVO.com are focused on particular business sectors (car dealers and lawyers). The smaller sites are often given big league visibility when Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local consolidate and display reviews from these sources. I tell my clients to follow a process of checking the big three listings on a weekly basis to look for new reviews. Google Alerts won’t warn you.

    Again, thanks for another great post!

  31. on 08 Sep 2010 at 1:39 pm Sean

    I owned an automotive related small business which was listed on Yahoo Small Business listings.
    I had no idea I was even listed on Yahoo until a customer mentioned that my company was being discussed on the internet ina completely un-appropriate manner.
    Upon my reviewing of this yahoo service listing, I was completely disgusted, and extremely outraged to read what had been posted in regards to my company!
    There were 7 negative reviews and 3 positive reviews, we could identify the positives and 1 of the negative but the remaining 6 negatives were unidentified and extremely hurtful!
    Not only did they trash my business and reputation literally, but they almost mande me mentally insane for the reason they were destroying a reputation I had worked so hard for 14years to earn!
    Neither myself or my employees could identify the ficticious poor customer service posted in our reviews, but to add to this problem it also had my personal background information listed including false accusations about me as a person which did not have ANYTHING to do with my company!! Unbelievable!
    The only sources I have been able to lean upon for my hateful reviews is an ex girlfriend and even a competing company. Being that it takes 10min. for anyone to destroy you and them to be invisible doing so, it seems something of this nature would be the perfect revenge to any business owner whom likes to have an outside personal life, (witch is very hard to do in the first place).
    With that being said, I had contacted Yahoo numerous times, of course I had recieved the run around numerous times back and forth. Not only that but I was even EXTORTED by Yahoo as a company! I was told to “upgrade” my small business yahoo listing by paying with my credit card, (which i did), and they promised I would be able to delete the whole page should I desire let alone the ugly false comments! Needless to say, 5 months and $40-$60 later and I still have no control over my listing and nothing has changed!
    After owning and running my shop for almost 4 years and being very succesful, I decided to close my doors 4 months ago for various reasons. Economy being a huge factor, Yahoo being another (which definitely did not help).
    Myself, as well as my former 5 full time employees are all unemployed with the shop being closed! However our YAHOO page is still going strong!!!
    It would make my day over and over to file lawsuit on Yahoo for slander and extortion of a small business, however I’m not sure by civil law if such a thing is possible or even logical from where I stand!
    I just wish I could get answers and yahoo as a company could do their dilligance.

  32. on 27 Oct 2011 at 12:51 am jazzah

    I too have received negative reviews on two sites. I have asked to have our business removed as we never gave permission for it to be there in the first place. They have refused. I am so upset, we have been going through a really big growth spurt and pains…..we are working on improving things, but these negative reviews just seem to attract more.

    Not one positive review when we have over 300 customers per month.

    How do you get them to post their positive experiences so it is more balanced, is there a service that helps facilitate this? as I would pay someone to do the legwork to encourage our happy customers to post.
    It is just so one way and unfair..


  33. […] sites that all merchants to respond and learn how to use their tools. Miriam Ellis has a great post Edit, Remove and Respond To Reviews – Tools for Conflict Resolution that outlines what kinds of merchant responses are allowed on different local reviews sites. I […]

  34. on 12 Jan 2012 at 5:56 am ehlinelaw

    We are getting massive calls seeking to sell us reputation management. When we refuse, 1 star reviews show up, where in the “user” has only reviewed you, or maybe several other businesses with all bad reviews. The user is usually a straw man. How do you deal with all that?

  35. on 12 Jan 2012 at 2:59 pm admin

    Hello Michael!
    This sounds very bad. I would love it if you could contact me with some examples of this, if possible. I’d like to see what you are seeing.
    Miriam

  36. on 18 Jan 2012 at 11:48 am Lisa F

    I just got off the phone with Eric a rep at City Search who told me that Owners cannot respond to reviews unless they UPGRADE to their premium account at $300 a month. They can post comments but not as the owner. To me this smacks of extortion. Customers can post reviews for free but if the owner wants to respond they have to pay $300 a month! That’s just not right and I for one will be boycotting CitySearch until they level the playing field for business owners.

  37. on 18 Jan 2012 at 2:42 pm admin

    Welcome Lisa,
    This sounds like a new policy. Thank you for sharing your experience here. Sometimes, when one hears about things like this, it turns out that the sales rep isn’t actually representing the company’s true policy. I wonder if this is the case in what you experienced. I will be asking around about this and appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.

  38. on 06 Feb 2012 at 11:52 am Kelly

    Thank you for posting this article!!!! It has been so much help to us!!! We recently received a negative review on CitySearch and it’s been over 6 weeks and still no response from them on why they aren’t removing the negative review or if they are even going to remove it. Regarding Lisa’s comment above, I was able to sign in as the owner and respond to their negative comment without paying a fee and explain our side of the story. You have to set up an account with them to do this. I must say that I do disagree with CitySearch’s policies and wish there was an easier way to get a negative review removed. I am also very disappointed in their customer service!! They have not responded to any of my e-mails!!!! Shame on you, CitySearch!! BOO!!! I just want an answer from them and a review removed that should be!!! The guy who posted the review was mad and said things that are untrue and are slandering our business.

  39. on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:25 pm admin

    Hello Kelly,
    Thanks for stopping by. There seems to be some real conflict of information regarding CitySearch’s policy. I have heard from others that you do need to pay the $300 fee in order to respond as an owner. Is your account with them really old – perhaps predating a policy like this? Perhaps a CitySearch rep will stop by and clear this one up for us. Appreciate you sharing your experience.
    Miriam

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