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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:
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.
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
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.
Owner Respond: Yes
Delete Reviews: Yes
Edit Reviews: Yes
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.
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.
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

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