Reviews and customer feedback are inevitably tricky areas when trying to protect your brand’s reputation, it’s how you deal with them that counts. Hotel Quebec have launched defamation proceedings in Canada against a guest at the Hotel who wrote a scathing review on TripAdvisor, after he claimed that he was bitten by bed bug. To date, 1,801 people have said they found the review helpful – a crushing blow to any company in the service industry. The Hotel is suing him, reportedly seeking £60k in damages to their reputation and asking for the review to be taken down.
Brands with similar concerns in England are often faced with an uphill struggle to sue against reviewers in libel, not least because of the requirement to prove that the review caused or was likely to cause, serious financial loss to their business. The situation under English law then becomes even trickier. Most people choosing to post or comment, whether good or bad, would be protected from a defamation claim if they can show; what they said was substantially true e.g. by having photos to back up the statements or indeed physical evidence - the respondent in the Hotel Quebec case claims he has the actual bed bugs he found in the room! These reviewers can leave companies exposed to further public scrutiny and potential costs.
So what can they do about it? Unless they can somehow show the reviewer was dishonest and that the review was therefore malicious, options are slim. Websites hosting the comments can sometimes help; TripAdvisor have said that “whenever such an allegation is brought to our attention, we review the content in question, and if it is deemed to be in breach of our guidelines, we will remove it.
Prevention is no doubt better than a cure. A proper customer complaints procedure can turn critics into advocates whilst providing a vital early warning system for emerging reputational risks. By employing the correct decision making criteria and through the development of a ‘reputation culture’, issues can be more readily and more discreetly resolved to cut off negative publicity before it starts.