December 9, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver
Our recent article about the restaurant patron who “lost it” when his steak was served rare and not medium – threatening an online defamation campaign unless he was paid $500 – got a very large reader response.
Richart Ruddie, founder of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, Profile Defenders, emailed, “Great story! Let’s talk, as I have a list of things management must avoid that will help prevent a bad situation from becoming worse when faced with an actual or threatened bad/defamatory online review.”
Don’t Do These Things
(1) Poke the Bear! Respond publicly on line — Attack the customer and say they are wrong.
Consequences: All issues and problems have now become public. It is far better to quarantine the customer and their complaint to a one-on-one session so that you can work to resolve the problem and lessen exposing your company to further embarrassment.
(2) Pour Fuel on the Fire by “Doubling Down” on why there is no basis for the customer’s complaint.
Consequences: Mass negative publicity, including damage to employee morale, lost sales, potentially damaged relationships with your vendors.
A perfect, recent example of this kind of behavior are Kayne West’s anti-Semitic statements on a podcast after a similar incident on Twitter. He claimed having the ability to say anything he wanted to say and Adidas could not cancel his contract.
The result was that what he boasted could not happen actually did!
(3) Refuse to take responsibility for something that you might have indeed done incorrectly. Never admit fault, just like many of our politicians, when caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
Consequences: Even if the original basis of this dispute was primarily caused by your customer, by refusing to admit obvious fault, you characterize yourself as a business not worth patronizing. Saying “I’m sorry” goes a long way.
(4) Give in to the temptation of filing suit immediately against the customer for defamation and seek a gag order preventing them from further broadcasting or publishing their complaints.
Result? This makes the customer much more irate, and may add weight to their contentions. The more you try to shut them up, the harder they will work to cause embarrassment to your company.
Instead, hear the customer out about their complaint and work with them toward finding a workable solution. Ask: “What can I do to make you happy?”
A good example was a dental office that needed to reschedule a patient’s teeth cleaning five times. She posted a very uncomplimentary review of the dentist’s office. Our recommendation was to apologize and offer that service at no charge in exchange for removing the negative review.
(5) Refuse to aim for a win-win outcome. Rather, discredit any statements from your customer.
Result? This will not help you in any way, and if you allow your anger to overrule sound judgment, you run the risk of going too far and wind up being sued yourself for defamation!
Instead – and hopefully in an office setting or over the phone – encourage the customer to vent and voice their complaint. Ask them, “How can we resolve this in a fair manner.”
Don’t close the door to anything reasonable!
And If None of that Works?
Richard recommends that if you have not been successful, and the customer is threatening to post even more defamatory information online, “It’s time to retain either experienced internet defamation counsel, or a company that specializes in reputation protection that you have vetted! And it is critical to use a United States-based company,” he underscores.
“There are many fake firms that will promise you the world but take your money and do nothing. They may even have what appears to be a U.S. telephone number, so you’ve got to be extremely careful.
“Whoever you retain, make sure they provide you with an actual contract showing clear deliverables and terms of service. Billing is customarily monthly or up front.
“Legitimate firms will have the knowhow that provides a better chance of removing/fixing damaging posts. The better firms have excellent contacts with the major websites and can get to the right people. But it is impossible to guarantee an outcome, as that is in the hands of the website.
If you are told, “We can guarantee removal of that post, RUN!”
Richard concluded our interview with this practical advice:
“Google Alerts is an excellent service that constantly scans the internet, looking for your name or your company’s name. Your best defense to online defamation is being aware.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.