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When you work hard to provide your clients with quality services, it can be disappointing when you find a negative review about your business online.

Bad reviews discourage customers from choosing you as a service provider over your competitors. They can dent your reputation if you don’t handle them correctly, and they can affect your confidence. It’s no wonder that some business owners want to go as far as to sue over a bad review.

As frustrating as it is, what can you do about it? In this post, we’ll walk you through some of the different ways you can handle bad reviews, and how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

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Can I sue someone over a bad online review?

Technically yes, you can––but only if it qualifies as libel, slander, or defamation.

What is libel?

Libel is when someone writes, prints, or otherwise publishes an untrue and harmful statement about someone else.

For example, if a client writes a newspaper article saying that you or your employees stole from them when you didn’t.

What is slander?

Slander is when someone makes an untrue and harmful verbal statement about you.

For example, if someone does a TV interview about your business and they say you or your employees damaged their property when you didn’t.

What is defamation?

Defamation is the act of communicating a false, harmful statement about a person or business to others publically.

To be considered defamation, a verbal or written statement must be untrue, available to the public, and cause harm to a business or person.

For example, an untrue but private statement would not be considered defamation. So, if a client privately told their friend that you caused damage to their home when you didn’t, this wouldn’t be considered defamation. But, if they were to make that untrue statement public, and it caused you to lose business, it could be considered defamation.

What do I need to sue over a bad review?

To sue a client over a negative or untrue online review, it first needs to qualify as libel.

So, the client would have to have made a harmful, untrue statement about your business or your employees.

Next, you need to prove that the statement is libelous. There are four elements to prove libel:

  1. The review must be made available to someone other than the person or business it is about. In other words, it must be published by a third-party where others can access it.
  2. It must identify a specific person or business. For example, it must refer to you or your business name. It can’t be a general review that you simply suspect is about you.
  3. You need to prove that the review harmed you or your business in some way. For example, show how the review either harmed your reputation or affected your livelihood by taking business from you.
  4. The person who made the review must be at fault. That means that they have to know that their statement was false when they made it. A simple misunderstanding or mistake generally won’t count.

If you are seriously considering suing over a bad review, you should make sure that the review includes all four of the elements to have the strongest case. You should also pull copies of anything that may help you.

For example, it would be beneficial to have:

  • Copies of all email, text, and written conversations you had with the client
  • Copies of any contracts, agreements, quotes, invoices, payments
  • Details about the review, including a copy, the web address, the social media site or review platform it was posted on, any responses or comments on it, information about the author, and the date and time
  • Proof of relevant activities, like fleet tracking, employee timesheets, etc. to prove details about the case the author is referring to

If you do decide you want to sue someone, your first step would be to speak with your lawyer.

However, there are still some steps you can take to remove a negative before taking the case to court.

READ MORE: How to respond to negative reviews (with expert examples)

Removing bad online reviews

You can try and ask the review author to remove their post for starters. Start a polite conversation with them to help you understand the root of the problem.

Maybe it’s a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Perhaps it can be fixed by offering a refund or an apology to the client.

When you’re at this stage, it’s very important to be polite and helpful.

Need some help responding to negative client reviews?

Here are 12 great examples to help you out.

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Consider starting the conversation with something like:

“We’re so sorry to hear that you weren’t happy with our services. Customer satisfaction is very important to us and we’d like to talk about how we can help.”

If you can’t get in touch with the reviewer, or they refuse to work with you, then you can escalate the issue to the platform that the review was published on.

Each platform (like Google reviews, Facebook, and Yelp) has different policies surrounding reviews. Some (like Google) will allow you to remove or hide a review yourself.

Facebook, for example, will also allow you to remove (or request to remove) reviews as well. Others will request that you meet certain requirements before they take it down for you.

4 Ways to prevent bad reviews

Negative feedback is bound to come your way eventually. You can’t avoid receiving a bad review, but you can control how you react to the situation.

If you’re trying to avoid suing clients is to prevent the situation from getting severe enough that it ends in that result in the first place.

1. Send out satisfaction surveys

It’s important to always ask your clients what they thought of your service. Always follow up.

Van Wu, owner of Trust Home Comfort Ltd. explains how he uses Jobber’s client follow-up survey to get this feedback:

“After you do an install or repair you need to follow-up with an email and answer the customer’s concerns. Normally I get review feedback through Jobber’s email follow-up tool. I can ask my clients for a rating between 1-10 and they can add comments. Plus, follow-ups after a quote or a service helps you look professional.”

In addition to understanding customer sentiment, a customer rating helps Van share feedback with his staff.

“All our employees are very proud to work at Trust Home Comfort. They get positive feedback from our customers thanks to Jobber’s feedback function.”

Feedback is very important for helping Van continue to improve on his customer service. It also helps him tell his employees what they should continue doing and what they should avoid.

How do you use customer feedback surveys to your advantage?

One entrepreneur explains how.

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2. Keep track of everything

Keeping track of all your job and service details in Field Service Management Software, like Jobber, can help you stay organized.

This is really important in case something goes wrong during a project, or a client is claiming that you failed to do something in a negative review.

By keeping track of important documents like contracts, invoices, quotes, and receipts, as employee time sheets and crew locations, you can provide evidence to back up your claims in case you need to.

Using software that manages and automates these things for you makes keeping track of important information and staying organized easier than ever.

3. Maintain communication with your clients

Good communication is one of the best ways to avoid unhappy clientele. There are so many opportunities to open up great communication lines when you’re on the job. For example:

This sounds like a lot of work and effort on your part, but it’s not so long as it’s automated with the help of software.

Even if a client was unhappy with an aspect of the job, maintaining communication throughout the project can go a long way in avoiding difficult complications.

Plus, if you’re able to reach out during the invoice and payment process, you’re able to have a final chance at fixing an issue before it’s too late.

4. Keep up on customer service

Have customer service be a priority for all of your employees and make sure they’re aware that customer service is an important part of your business. From administrative staff, to your social media marketer, to the crews who go out to job sites, everyone should be on the same page about how to treat customers.

That way, if an employee ever comes across a negative review or speaks to a disgruntled customer, they know exactly how to handle the situation.

Have discussions with your employees about how to treat clients so they can react quickly in the event that something starts to go south.

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