The power of online reviews & complaints:
Online Reviews help businesses to share wins and to build trust and provide social proof of the value of goods or services. They can also provide a space for disgruntled customers to make a very public complaints. Unfortunately at times consumers act in an emotional state and do not fully consider the consequences of their actions.
It is heartwarming for a business owner to receive positive reviews for their services and products, but it can be absolutely heartbreaking when a complaint gets out of hand.
Previously we wrote an article covering many of the issues to be considered by both businesses and consumers when providing online testimonials (you can read it here). In this article we really want to focus on helping consumers through the steps of providing a review or making a complaint so that the interests of all parties are protected. Most countries will have extensive consumer laws in place. These are there to help protect both business and consumers by providing rulings and guidelines on all manner of consumer law. In Australia the ACCC is the ruling body.
There are guidelines for making an official complaint, and we strongly recommend that the first point of call is always to contact the business direct, before heading to social media.
Make contact with the business as soon as possible
Don’t delay. A fairer outcome for all concerned comes with a timely complaint.
Make sure you state the complaint fairly and the outcome you are seeking (replacement of an item, refund, repair).
Have proof of purchase or any contract readily available as the business may request such documents as part of their complaints proceedings.
Put your complaint in Writing via email or a letter
It can assist to put your complaint in writing so that there are no misunderstandings. State your complaint and your desired outcome. Having your complaint in writing also helps to document the process.
The ACCC provide a handy tool to help you determine your rights. It is a general guide only, and does not constitute legal advice.
You can find the tool here: Use your rights
Be fair and reasonableKeeping your cool is important. Remember to focus on the issue at hand and try to avoid confrontation.Click To Tweet
If things are getting heated, ask to speak to someone else, or tell them you will call again tomorrow because you are upset at the moment. Don’t allow emotion to cause further issues.
If you have not had any response, then posting a question or a tweet to a business asking them to respond, without any emotion attached does seem to make some businesses take action. Please do this respectfully and only after all other attempts have failed.
If you are not getting a resolution
Don’t continue to complain, after three attempts to resolve the issue, if you are still not happy or the business has not responded, your next step is to seek advice from either the ACCC or a third party.
The ACCC provides a list of places to go for help, you can access the list here.
If you are still not getting a satisfactory response, your step would be to obtain legal advice. Do not launch into an attack online or bombard the premises with abusive phone calls. None of this will help you to resolve the issue and you may find yourself being charged for harrassment or other charges. This leads us to talk about the elephant (troll) in the room. The use of social media for complaints.
Don’t become an accidental troll (or incite others to troll)With businesses so accessible these days via social media, it can be tempting to launch into an attack on a business when you are feeling that your complaint has not been dealt with. Click To Tweet
Complaining to friends can get them riled up too and sometimes we see cases of a disgruntled customer inciting their friends to write poor reviews and complaints against the business. This is unethical behaviour and further if the people writing the reviews have never used the business, they are in fact breaching laws around the creation of fake reviews. (see our previous article on writing testimonals here).
The risk of being charged under defamation laws will loom in this instance. If your friends do go on the defensive for you, ask them to please remove such reviews and complaints, to protect their own reputations. Publically launching into a personal attack on businesses or naming and shaming can often backfire and should not be part of your plan for resolution.
What if you have written a bad review and then the problem is resolved?
In this case do the right thing and at the very least add a comment to your review that the issue was resolved and thank them for the resolution. You may or may not choose to delete the review or amend it in other ways. You have the right to leave a review for a business provided it is truthful and not malicious.
When can’t you request a refund or cancel a service?
When it comes to services, under Australia law there are certain rights which the consumer has, but also there are times when you cannot cancel or request a refund. According to the ACCC website these include:
- issues arising which were outside of the control of the provider,
- because you just decide to change your mind after the service was completed
- you have insisted on having a service provided in a particular way, against the provider’s advice
- you failed to clearly explain your needs to the provider.
For example you engage a painter and you are told that the surface needs a primer. You insist this is not necessary and direct the painter to paint without the preparation. The paint starts to peel within weeks. You cannot request a refund because you have been given expert advice and chosen to go against it and insisted they do the work your way.
The area of complaints is one where emotions can run high on both sides.Click To Tweet
The above is general information only and should not be considered legal advice.
We are happy to continue research into this area and welcome discussion on the topic. Please however refrain from naming and shaming any organisation in your comments or using inappropriate language (we are a family friendly blog!).
You may also wish to read our article on etiquette and responding to complaints from the business side here.
Fiona Lucas is the founder of iRespectOnline. She is passionate about helping small businesses to grow, thrive and build reputation online. Fiona is an ethical marketer providing bespoke online marketing strategies to enable businesses to leverage social media for growth. Underpinning everything she does, as Australia’s first online reputation evangelist she is passionate about driving social change towards a more respectful online environment.
She was named in Mamamia’s Top 50 women to watch online 2013, Finalist Geelong Small Business Awards 2017 – Social Media Influencer and is a virtual community manager for Social Media Marketing World. Fiona presents on digital futures, cybersafety and digital marketing.
Fiona is the author of Futureproof Your Kids – a parents guide to the social media playground.