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Tip #1: Remember Your TRUE Audience
The first thing that I tell a contractor that calls me to discuss a negative review is that you are not trying to draft your response to convince the homeowner that you were correct and that the homeowner was wrong.
Your audience is all of the other readers of the review, not the homeowner. In most situations, you have already lost the business of the homeowner. The purpose of your response is convincing the other readers that the homeowner is incorrect and that you, the contractor, are correct.
Tip #2: Do Not Be Emotional
The purpose of the homeowner writing a negative comment is to harm the contractor or provide the homeowner some type of leverage in future negotiations. For example, the homeowner may say, "If you provide me a discount, I will remove the negative review." As an attempt to make the contractor look as bad as possible, the homeowner may use emotional, hyperbolic language.
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The contractor’s response should be objective, not emotional. An emotional response tends to indicate to other readers that the contractor is not in control or does not have facts to support their position. Everyone has read a response or series of responses between contractors and homeowners where it breaks down and essentially becomes a “pissing match” between the homeowner and contractor.
In those situations, the contractor ALWAYS loses. The reason that the contractor loses in these situations is because the contractor is the only one that has something to lose (i.e., other clients). The other readers will avoid a contractor who falls into this trap.
When I write responses for a client, I draft the response as though I was delivering the argument/response to a judge or a jury in a courtroom. I use persuasive objective statements that make it difficult for the homeowner to dispute the statement. In addition, by using objective statements, it makes the homeowner’s complaint appear unreasonable. Typically, the other readers will side with whomever has a more reasonable position.
The importance of writing a well-reasoned response cannot be understated.
An emotional response tends to indicate to other readers that the contractor is not in control or does not have facts to support their position.
Tip #3: Legal Options
Many homeowner reviews cross over the line between legally allowed reviews to illegal defamation. As a result, and in conjunction with drafting a response that goes online, I will typically send a cease-and-desist letter.
A cease-and-desist letter states that the homeowner has defamed the contractor and that the homeowner has a set time period to remove the post or else the contractor will pursue a lawsuit. When the cease-and-desist letter comes from a law firm, the homeowner tends to take the demand and the threat of a lawsuit seriously. In my experience, cease-and-desist letters work well to convince the homeowner to remove the post.
If the cease and desist does not result in the homeowner removing the post and if the post meets the legal elements of defamation in your state, you may consider a lawsuit to have the post removed and/or to have the homeowner pay for the damages you suffered as a result of the defamatory posts.
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Tip #4: Non-Disparagement Clauses in Contracts
Many clients ask me, “Can I just put in my contract a clause that says that the homeowner cannot post negative reviews (what lawyers refer to as a non-disparagement clause)?" The simple answer is NO! The problem is that there is a federal law called the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which prohibits non-disparagement clauses in “form” contracts.
Typically, contractors use a contract that was either drafted by the owner or an attorney that they use for all of their construction projects. Those types of contracts typically would qualify as a form contract. The Consumer Review Fairness Act is enforceable by the attorney general. There are several cases where the attorney general goes after companies that use non-disparagements in their contracts. Before adding a non-disparagement clause to your contract, speak to a knowledgeable attorney.
If you have further questions about this topic, feel free to contact our office.
Disclaimer: What kind of lawyer would I be if this article did not contain disclaimers? Please note that nothing above is considered legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. Your rights will depend on your specific facts and your particular state laws. Any results or outcomes stated above cannot be relied on for future results or outcomes.