Last week, I received an email from Google that included the following notification concerning one of my law firm websites: “You just got a 1-star review.” Underneath the notification was a place for me to click to read the review. I immediately clicked on the link and found the review. The only thing on the review page was a company logo with one star that was an orange color.
The logo included the name of a company. I googled the company name, but because the name was similar to several other local and national companies, I was unable to find a link to the company that was represented by the logo. I navigated to the “Images” page of Google and again searched for the name of the company. A page of images appeared. I looked for and found the same logo that was next to the 1-star review.
If you’re familiar with the Google Images page, when you click on an image, the area around the image expands, and to the right of the image there is a link that will take you to where the image originated. I clicked on the link and was taken to the Google+ page for the company.
I located the contact information for the company, and there was a phone number listed. I called the number and a man answered the phone. I asked whom I was speaking to, and he told me his name. For the purpose of this email, I’m going to call him “Burt.”
I didn’t recognize Burt’s name. I told him who I was and asked him if he had posted a negative review on Google. In a defensive tone of voice, he said, “Yes, I did.” When I asked him why he posted the review, he said that the reason was because I was not willing to help him with his case. I still didn’t know who he was, so I asked, “Have I ever met with you?”
He answered yes and told me he had met with me about an accident he had been involved in. He said that I was not willing to assist him with his case and had referred him to another lawyer. He said he called the other lawyer, but the lawyer wasn’t returning his calls, so he gave negative reviews to both of us. His recitation of what happened jogged my memory, and I remembered who Burt was. He had previously called my office, and my client services manager scheduled him for an appointment to meet with me.
The facts of Burt’s case were straightforward. While he was pulling out of a parking lot onto a street, a truck turned left at a nearby intersection and collided with the side of Burt’s truck. After the collision, the other driver got out of his truck and cussed at Burt and threatened to beat him up.
The police officer who investigated the accident refused to issue any tickets because of the conflicting facts he received from Burt and the other driver. I wasn’t willing to assist Burt with his case because, in my opinion, it was unclear who was at fault for the accident.
After I told Burt that I wasn’t going to be able to help him, I gave him the name and telephone number of another local attorney who might be able to help him out. He became irritated and said, “It was the other guy’s fault. He threatened to beat me up! I know where he lives. I may just go to his house tonight and burn it down.”
Burt was serious when he made the statement, so I said, “You really shouldn’t do that unless you want to end up in prison.” His response to my statement surprised me: “Yeah, I’ve been in jail before, and I never want to go back.”
That was a month ago. I didn’t talk to Burt again until after he posted the negative review and I called him. When I realized who he was, I said, “Is that how you treat people who help you out? You punish them by trying to hurt their business?”
Burt got defensive and said, “That’s just the way it is, man. I have my own contracting business, and I don’t get any breaks. I’m working on a crappy job right now so I can pay my bills. I work my a** off just to get by, and you lawyers drive around in your BMWs. I don’t have a lot of money like you do.”
I responded by saying, “For your information, I grew up in a family of 17 children. I have eight brothers and eight sisters. I started working when I was 12 years old and have been working ever since. I work as hard or harder than you do, so you don’t need to tell me about how hard you work and how difficult it is to make money.”
I continued, “I took the time out of my busy schedule to meet with you and answer your questions. I also cared enough about you to try to find another lawyer who could help you. I didn’t charge you for your appointment. In return, you gave me a negative review. Is that how you treat people who help you out?”
He refused to answer my question and played the victim card on me again. He provided several more reasons why he was cheated by life’s lottery. I finally cut him off and said, “What kind of person are you? I can’t believe you would punish someone who tried to help you. I know that you’re a better person than that. Are you willing to do the right thing and go back onto Google and remove the review?”
I stopped talking and waited for him to respond. He hesitated and said, “I don’t know. I would have to think about that.”
I replied, “What do you have to think about? You know what the right thing to do is. You know better than this. I helped you, and you punished me for trying to assist you. Is that how you treat people who help you out? Now I’m going to ask you again. Are you willing to do the right thing and go back onto Google and remove the review?”
He hesitated again and then replied, “I’m working right now. Maybe later tonight I’ll do that. I want to think about it, but maybe I’ll do it tonight.” I responded, “If you don’t do what you know you should do, I’ll be back in contact with you. But I know you’ll do the right thing.”
The day after my conversation with Burt, I checked my Google page. He had changed his 1-star review to a 5-star review.
I’m telling you this story for a reason. My initial (internal) reaction to this man’s behavior was rage. I could have threatened to post a review on his Google page — a review that said he had been in jail and could not be trusted, that he had a serious anger problem, and that he was in the habit of seeking revenge on anyone he was angry with. I could have made it clear to him that my review would paint such an ugly picture of him that any potential customer of his who read the review would refuse to do business with him.
It occurred to me during our conversation that he probably grew up in a dysfunctional home. I couldn’t help but think that if he had been raised by my parents, he would have known better than to play victim and blame me for his misfortune. That’s why I started out by dealing with him in a non-threatening way.
I attempted to shame him while, at the same time, telling him that he was “a better person than that” and that he knew what the right thing to do was.
While the internet has greatly enhanced our ability to communicate with others, it has also complicated our lives by allowing people like Burt to harm us by simply posting a negative comment or review. Before the internet, only a small percentage of people had the resources and ability to broadcast a message to a large audience. Now, anyone with a smartphone can do unspeakable harm to one or more people by broadcasting an untrue and harmful message on the World Wide Web.
We need to be very vigilant about protecting our reputation on the internet and in the community in which we work. We also need to pay close attention to how others treat us on Facebook and other social media websites. Our response to attempts to ruin our reputation or to bully us must be swift, aggressive, and strategic.