You work hard for your clients, spending countless hours trying to represent them in the best way you know how. Most of the time… in fact, the vast majority of the time, your clients are extremely appreciative of your efforts. Some give you repeat business or send you referrals or post an online comment attesting to your legal proficiency.
But then, there are those times when someone determines, rightly or wrongfully that your efforts are not enough, that your turnaround time is too slow, that you made a mistake, etc., go online to a blog, or a legal directory or some other site to review, complain, criticize, and perhaps, even insult. Now when a potential client does an online search, up pops less than flattering content about you, your work or your law practice.
What should you do?
But before we address that, let me advise as to what you should not do… and that is, to let your emotions get the best of you. Social media and all the good and the bad that go with it are all part of the business landscape now. Hence, it is the wise professional who understands this and approaches negative comments with the cool, detached demeanor with which he or she would address any other challenge.
This means first taking the time to analyze the validity of the complaint. If it is legitimate, the best thing you can do is publicly acknowledge the criticism and offer a way of making good on your mistake. Oftentimes, the best relationships are borne out of a problem or misunderstanding. By recognizing your part in the matter, those reading the posts will bear witness to the fact that you are trying to do the right thing – and are doing so in a rationale, calm and professional manner. In private, you may also wish to communicate with the individual who wrote the comment and offer to make amends. You never know. You may just be surprised to see a follow up comment that is more “glowing.”
If the complaint is not legitimate, the process is not all dissimilar. While you do not necessarily need to concur with the post or the review, you should still convey your interest in resolving the matter. This is not the time to get defensive, but rather an opportunity to show that the interests of your clients are paramount to you. Again, the goal here is to offset the negative by communicating empathy.
A well-crafted response that takes the edge off the negativity is the right way to approach such matters. This is true even if the other party has resorted to nasty comments and name-calling. That being said however, it is generally not a good idea to engage in an extended “back-and-forth” online exchange with the other party. Get across what you want to get across and then let it go. Otherwise it may take on a life of its own and blow up into an increasingly difficult problem.
Once you have determined the legitimacy of the complaint, addressed it publicly (and perhaps also in private), there remains another, albeit ongoing task to perform. In order to drown out the negative comment, it is always a good idea to generate positive content. Ask clients you know are satisfied with your work to post comments online. The more, the better. The rationale for this is simple. If you want you and your firm to be optimized online, you want it to be for good reasons. And few efforts are better for search engine optimization than content that is relevant and recent.
In addressing negative online ratings, evaluations or comments, it is really no different than addressing them elsewhere. Take an honest look at yourself, acknowledge (where appropriate) your role in the problem, convey understanding and empathy, and offer to make good. Then drop it.
One other thing… As with everything else, when dealing with these kinds of situations, common sense almost always applies.