Congress Just Passed a Law Protecting Negative Reviews

You probably didn’t notice, but as 2016 came to a close, the federal government made it a little bit more difficult for you to control the things people post about your business on the internet. On December 15, President Obama signed the Consumer Review Fairness Act into law.

The CRFA was created and passed with bipartisan support (something of a unicorn these days), and is designed to protect the free speech of consumers on the internet to leave whatever kind of review they want on whichever review site they want.

It’s never been easy for businesses to get negative reviews taken down once they are put up, but some particularly crafty (and litigious) businesses had recently tried to get creative with their “terms of service” agreements, (you know, those long blocks of small font legal text that nobody ever reads?) and had been adding a type of clause called a “non-disparagement clause” which prevented consumers from posting negative comments under the threat of legal action.

And some of these companies even put their clauses into action. In the case that spurred the law to be written in the first place, for instance, Palmer v. KlearGear, the company, KlearGear demanded that Jen Palmer remove a negative review or pay a fine of $3500, the amount stated in their non-disparagement clause. When Palmer refused to pay, KlearGear reported the lack of payment to credit agencies, which affected Ms. Palmer’s credit. Palmer ended up winning, but the whole ordeal took time and money in court fees, and these types of cases of consumers being sued over negative reviews were starting to pile up.

Now, with the Consumer Review Fairness Act in place, any clause in a contract or terms of service agreement that would prohibit or restrict in any way a consumer’s ability to freely speak their mind in an online review would be void, and any “fines” associated would be thrown out.

So, what does all this mean for businesses and how they treat their strategy for online reviews?

While yes, it does make it a little more difficult to deal with negative reviews, the proper response to negative reviews was probably not to drag your customers through lawsuits. Fake reviews and other shady business of that sort aside, consumers SHOULD be able to speak their minds. After all, if we don’t know that customers could leave bad reviews if they wanted to, how can anybody be expected to trust the good reviews?

The reality is that negative reviews should be encouraged. Okay, well maybe not encouraged, but welcome. Businesses need to be open to receiving honest feedback from the customers, both the good and the bad. You want your customers to feel that even if they have a negative opinion, that opinion is going to be heard, processed, and taken seriously.

Businesses should welcome the Consumer Review Fairness Act, as they should welcome every opportunity to treat consumers fairly and hear out their customers’ concerns.

And if you DO get a negative review, try to figure out what was behind it and examine whether their might be a real issue that needs to be corrected. Take the conversation out of the public forum and move it to a private form of communication like email. Try to get that customer to come back and give your business another chance, and if they have a better experience, perhaps consider removing or updating their initial negative review. And most of all, thank them for their feedback. You’re never going to please everybody. Bad reviews are going to happen. But if you take your reviews seriously and encourage more people to leave them, chances are the good ones will far drown out the bad.If your company needs advice on how to handle negative reviews, feel free to chat with us about your issues and concerns!