Online reviews are the new word of mouth. However, it can be easy to jump the gun and leave a business a scathing review after only one bad interaction. While you have every right (within reason of the law) to share your bad experience, you need to consider how it could impact local Aussie businesses who are already doing it tough.
Have you given them every opportunity to resolve the matter? Could you email the business instead of leaving a review? In this article, you’ll find:
- How negative reviews impact Australian businesses.
- If you may face charges for leaving a negative review.
- What to do before submitting a negative review.
- Examples of how to write a negative review.
You may also be interested in: Can online reviews really be trusted?
3 Ways Negative Reviews Impact Australian Businesses
1. Loss of reputation.
93% of consumers reportedly read online reviews before making a purchase, and another 93% of consumers say online reviews influence their buying decisions. So, you can see how important they are.
With the impact businesses have taken in the last 12 months, we need to be aware of if a negative review is really necessary and how it impacts their reputation if we do. If you believe the review is entirely warranted, check out some of the tips below for ensuring the business can use this constructively to improve.
2. Reduced sales or enquiries.
94% of consumers say a negative review has convinced them to not visit a business. Of course, it may depend on the context of this, but that’s a very conclusive figure. There are further statistics of how businesses can help improve these figures, even with negative reviews, but the damage can’t be entirely removed.
As we approach the end of JobKeeper, many businesses are going to find themselves in a hard position. While negative experiences are going to happen, we need to consider how we can work with businesses when things may not go right, or if it’s the right time and occasion for a negative review.
3. Poor search engine results.
Businesses who are serious about helping the community and growing will be investing time or money into search engine optimisation, known as SEO. This is what puts them in front of you on search engines — like Google — when you’re looking for a plumber near you or a hairdresser in a certain suburb.
There are more than 300 factors search engines match websites to, which helps them know if they’re worthwhile showing you. Many of these factors aren’t directly on the website itself, with one big factor being the reputation of the business itself. To find this out, Google looks at the links directing people to the website from other websites, other places the business or person is mentioned and online ratings.
Many consumers will leave a negative review on multiple platforms, not just one. So, while it may sound like one person can’t do much harm, they could potentially leave more than 4 reviews online and on social media for one single business. While we’d like to assume all reviews are legitimate, as businesses become more popular, they may face false reviews being left by competitors, which can be difficult to prove and have removed.
Can you be sued for writing a bad review?
Yes, if your review is found to be false, misleading or damaging the personal or professional reputation of another under Uniform Defamation Laws in Australia, you may find yourself with legal action against you. Current laws do not allow businesses with more than 10 employees to sue for defamation, but an individual within a business may do so if they have been targeted within a review.
But don’t we have freedom of speech in Australia?
In Australia, we do not have Freedom of Speech as it’s known in the United States of America; we have Freedom of Information, Opinion and Expression. Essentially, Australia’s Freedom of Information, Opinion and Expression means while you have the right to hold opinion without interference and freedom of expression, including seeking, receiving and imparting information, these rights come with duties and responsibilities. Where these rights conflict with laws for respecting others’ rights or reputation, or national security or public order, they are restricted.
Therefore, before writing a review, it’s best to know your rights and responsibilities of what you can say online.
Can a business remove my negative review?
Online reviews are regulated under The Competition & Consumer Act 2010. This means the platform where reviews are received, consumers submitting reviews and businesses receiving reviews are all liable for knowing their responsibilities and rights within the eyes of the law. However, this works both ways.
Under regulations, businesses cannot block or tamper with false reviews, including having them removed without cause for doing so. Review platforms either have automated or manual processes to check reviews against filters prior to being published, as well as assessment if enquiries are lodged by either parties.
What to do if you receive notice of legal action over a review.
If you receive any sort of legal contact regarding a review you have submitted, contact a lawyer near you for guidance and representation immediately. Defamation laws are complicated and it’s best you have the proper counsel available to know your rights, where you have breached someone else’s rights and what to do if you have done so.
3 Things to Do Before Leaving a Negative Business Review
1. Lodge a formal complaint with the businesses.
Before you leave a business a negative review, you should exhaust all opportunities for the business to correct the matter. This includes letting the business know when there has been an issue and allowing them an opportunity to correct the matter.
You may wish to submit a formal complaint to the business to keep a record of doing so for yourself. When contacting them over the phone, keep a log of when you called and who you spoke to as this may help you continue your case and build a relationship with one person. In some cases, when contacting a small business, you may be speaking directly to the owner themselves.
While you may feel frustrated, it’s important to remember you’re speaking to another person and staying calm will help keep the process on track without distractions.
2. Contact the Ombudsman or industry board.
If you feel the business has breached a contract or your rights as a consumer, you may wish to consider contacting the ACCC, industry ombudsman or another level of support. During this process, it’s best to avoid publishing a review.
Many review guidelines will outline not being able to publish current legal or formal proceedings, as the matter is pending.
3. Do something else first.
Every day, Localsearch receives requests from reviewers to remove reviews they have submitted in the heat of the moment. When we become heated, it’s normal to want to vent and be heard, but doing so online can increase our chances of over exaggerating or making events seem worse than they really were.
Before submitting a review, take a walk, have a coffee, go to bed or another task to help you take your mind off the matter. Once you’re in a clear, calm state of mind, decide if a review is the avenue you want to continue with and what you need to write to portray an honest account of events justifying your review.
Example of How to Write a Negative Review
A good negative review will help provide the business feedback to act, resolve or adapt, as well as let the public know of your experience. For example:
“I visited XYZ Business last Wednesday around lunchtime, waited half an hour to be served, and was spoken to quite abruptly by the staff, but the line was out the door by this point. When I received my order of XYZ, I found I’d received the wrong items, so took it back to the counter. I had to wait a further 20 minutes while they prioritised the other new orders before mine. Once I had my order, it was great, but the customer service during rush hour was not good. Maybe go when it’s quieter.”
The review let’s people when you went, why you went there, the issue you had and any positives from your time with the business too.
4 tips for writing a negative review:
1. Ensure your review is entirely truthful.
Uniform Defamation Laws in Australia were created to protect all Australians from false or damaging statements which could impact their reputation. Depending on the state you’re in, your review being factual may be enough for it not to be considered defamatory, while in others, it must be truthful information and in the best interest of the public to know.
Online reviews are considered under defamation laws. False or misleading information in a review may be removed if this can be proven.
2. Avoid tarnishing words and exaggeration.
When writing your review, avoid exaggerating events or using tarnishing words even in the slightest, as this could make a statement become defamatory, amongst other things.
Avoiding tarnishing words in a negative review is similar to exaggeration, but there may be words or phrases you might not know to avoid. There are obvious offensive words, but any language which is considered a personal attack, derogatory or defamatory may land you in hot water.
For example, declaring a person at a business is a con artist or the business is a scam ring is something you would want to avoid. This alludes to illegal activity. If you do believe you have been the victim of illegal activity, your action should be the ACCC, police or appropriate body and probably not a review.
It’s best to stick to the facts.
3. Review your experiences with the business as a whole.
Is your negative experience the only time you’ve used the business? Have they given you a good experience in the past? When reviewing a business, you want to try and look at your entire experience with the business, not just a one-off, if applicable.
For example, say you went into a business one day and they were out of stock for a product you need, which they say online is in stock. You decide to write a negative review. You think for a moment about all the times they have helped you, so you choose a 4-star rating and outline how you have had good experiences, but the details of your new negative experience.
Even if it’s your first experience with the business, give as much detail as you can about what you did not enjoy very specifically.
4. Provide constructive feedback.
While reviews are mainly a way of sharing an experience with the community, businesses will take them as feedback of what they’re doing right or where they can improve. Being thorough will help do this in negative and positive reviews, but often reviewers leave our critical information which could help the business.
For example, some of the most common negative reviews are for businesses who did not respond to an enquiry. Reviews such as these should include details of how you made contact, roughly when, if you did so more than once and what the enquiry was regarding.
So, combining thorough, honest and construction methods for your review will help you share your experience, educate the public and give the business the feedback they need too.
Health practitioners are required to adhere to stringent regulations through the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) — including their advertising. While National Law says regulated health service providers cannot advertise testimonials, they can receive reviews which do not contain reference to clinical aspects.
As health is very individual to each person, so any clinical information provided can be considered misleading without full context of medical history and many other factors. So, if you can’t discuss the clinical aspects of your experience, what can you mention in your review?
What not to mention in a review for a medical business:
- The specific symptoms you were seeking treatment for.
- The specific diagnosis or treatment provided by the practitioner.
- Any specific outcomes of your treatment or experience, either directly or in comparison to another service.
- The skills or experience of the practitioner, either directly or in comparison to another service.
What you can include in a review for a medical business:
- Customer service aspects of your experience, such as their location, ease of booking and checking in, etc.
- Communication style of the regulated health service provider.
Reviews are a powerful tool in 2021. Before you submit a negative review, consider how it could impact a small business and the people they support, and any other possible options. Also consider any other interactions you’ve had with the business. Is it really a 1-star review or could it be a 3 or 4-star review based on an overall experience?
Let’s support local businesses already doing it tough however we can, even if it’s as simple as reconsidering a negative review.
The information in this article is for general informational purpose only and does not replace professional legal advice or guidance. Localsearch nor the author are liable for any misuse of this information. Please speak to a legal professional for more information regarding specific information for your own purposes. You can find legal professionals on localsearch.com.au!