Been vilified on social media? We asked industry trade associations and a legal expert for a view on dealing with blatant attacks online
“I want to know how others deal with spiteful social media and forums comments. One bride starting criticising my shop, our service, our product selection and most of all me, within a week of her wedding. She said that the dress she bought “didn’t live up to expectations” on the day (she had had three fittings and collected the dress a week before her wedding – no complaints at any time).
I can’t help wondering if her day itself was less than expected and she has chosen to take it out on me? Whatever the reason, she has been telling people to stay away from me and even got local press involved. How does one deal with this sort of situation? I have never been so miserable…”
Emma Meek | MD: Miss Bush | Creative Director: Luxe Bride
We have all experienced this; wounding, hurtful criticism. Words so barbed, so unjust that I can go back to the exact spot on the internet to find them, five years on…
“I would thoroughly advise NEVER buying a dress from Miss Bush after experiencing the worst customer service from the owner that I have ever come across and outrageously expensive alterations.” The Review Centre, 28 October 2013
A mauling of our product, service and reputation. The review seemed so injurious at the time. Before the multiple channels of online criticism, brides were always known to kick up a fuss – usually the object was a discount either prior to and after their wedding. There is nothing new in unjustified complaints with the aim of financial reward.
I robustly defended the criticism from 2013: I have beautiful images of the acid-tongued bride in question looking incredible; she was a late order, and she paid the contractual amount for the alterations.
However, every single aspect of our order process, our price point, our alterations service, our client service, our client communications and recording of every agreement, signed off quotes for alts, pre-booked fittings is radically different five years on. The bride wasn’t ‘right’ per-se, but Miss Bush’s procedures were not fit for the modern world of bridal retail.
Like Thatcher, I broke the unionised feel of the workroom. I overhauled every aspect of procedure and put the customer, not the seamstresses, front and centre of our focus.
In 2013 Miss Bush was delivering great products – now we deliver a spiritually and emotionally enriching experience with great products. I needed the slap in the face, figuratively speaking, to change. And here’s a recent review, for comparison:
“My Miss Bush Experience has been so wonderful. I adore the vibe at the chapel, I had such fun choosing my dress with Emma and her daughter and the team.” Miss H-S 21 August 2018
I still get bad reviews; the last three bad Google reviews were from people who didn’t buy dresses. One was just weird, another was a case of inverted snobbery and the last factual, but annoying. Our crime, seemingly, was to have two people in a shop together – a fact that is covered in our pre-appointment handbook. It’s also more ‘TripAdvisor’ as all three were reviewing us on our capacity to entertain as an appointment venue rather than a service or product provider.
Nevertheless, my team and I have scrutinised them and learnt from them. My tips for handling the emotional pain and the reputational damage of a bad review are as follows…
Acknowledge and own the criticism
A customer who had criticised you online has not had a proper line of communication with your company ahead of their bad review. They may not have complained because they didn’t want to upset themselves before their wedding. Or they may have felt unable to complain in person or been given the opportunity.
Brides find articulating complaints particularly difficult because they are emotionally attached to their dress. Even if the end game of their online criticism is to blackmail you for a refund, the bride’s relationship with you is such that they feel this is justifiable.
Regardless of whether there is a genuine compliant about a product, the online complainant is highlighting a failing about your client communications and procedures. Acknowledge the complaint politely online and invite the client to email you directly with their issues.
Break it down and review the history of the order with the client with your team. Do not start a public argument with the client in forums, review centres or on social media channels.
Vent and moan
Go to your private, closed trade forums to vent and moan. Mention nothing outside the industry. Only other small business owners in the bridal trade will truly understand how this makes you feel, but to save the reputation of your business and the trade as a whole keep it on the down-low.
The Social Media Effect
I have had friends in wedding-related services who have received complaints based on a bride’s perception of their wedding after seeing photos. One complaint was to a florist, because the flowers did not look as good as the Pinterest images.
The other complaint was to a make-up artist, where the bride wasn’t happy with her size.
Despite being happy on the day, they did not look like the social media images they had become obsessed with. Get your collection forms signed and there is less chance of comebacks and more chance to address any worries ahead of the wedding day.
Sociopaths are, by definition, people with little or no conscience. They will lie, cheat and manipulate others for their own benefit.
Far from wanting to be on the internet claiming that brides to be are sociopaths, I merely suggest, much like when you realise you have been conned, there are just unscrupulous people in the world and it is time to sharpen up your business practices to make it hard for them to hold you to ransom.
You may have had a bridal shop because you are a sweet caring soul who loves dresses, but this makes you vulnerable. In the words of Danielle Steel: “A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it.”
I chose this quote because it is inherently female. I understand how this would turn someone into a tearful Bake Off contestant. You need to remove your cake from this dangerous possibility!
Letting a client leave ‘thinking’ they are happy is different from ‘knowing’ they are happy. My suggestions may sound bureaucratic, but they open opportunities for communication and confirm you legal position under the umbrella of excellent customer service. Prevention is better than cure.
Checklist: Must haves
- A watertight legal contract
- A handbook
- A complaints procedure that is publicly available
- A written record of all fittings
- Signed off forms and agreed quotes and estimates for all products, fittings and services
- Photographs of the bride in the dress at all fittings from checking to collection
- Collection forms
- On the day and post-wedding care information
- An invitation to leave a review – so you can oversee a negative review before it goes public
To find out more about LUXE Bride, visit luxebride.co.uk/membership
Nicola Garton | Owner: The Wedding Shop, Colchester | Chair: RBA
Social media can open up businesses to a world of criticism and in some cases, the criticism isn’t even based on facts. Sometimes it’s simply a customer with a grudge who wants their voice to be heard.
Being quick to acknowledge any complaint is paramount. One of the main reasons customers post negative comments online about a business is because they believe they are not being listened to and want to lash out.
See the complaint from their point of view – avoid any argumentative interaction. It’s hard not to take severe criticism personally, but arguing back will only add fuel to the fire. You need to establish exactly what happened, the reasons why they are feeling disappointed with the service you offered and what can be done to make it right.
Once you have made an initial interaction online, try to encourage the bride to continue the conversation in private, whether this is a phone call, email or face-to-face meeting, anything to prevent any further damage online to your reputation.
Hopefully a solution can be found, but as complaints and disputes become increasingly common with bridal shops, sometimes – however frustrating it is – you won’t be able to please everyone.
What is most crucial is ensuring that potential customers who may read a negative review or comments online, see how well you as an owner dealt with the complaint. Learn from the mistakes made and put steps in place to try to avoid a future dispute escalating to such a high level.
Disputes and complaints are incredibly stressful to bridal shops and it can be hard to see clearly and what action to take. The RBA pride itself on offering continued support to its members and invaluable advice.
One of our strongest member benefits is free legal advice through the DAS legal helpline. Before any action is taken during a dispute or a response is made to a bride’s complaint, the DAS legal helpline is a great starting point. It’s completely free and is always on hand to advise you on your next step, giving you much needed peace of mind in stressful situations.
Our members have access to the RBA closed group forum, where they can ask each other for advice and chat to other shops who have dealt with similar disputes and how they resolved them. This can take a huge weight off bridal shop owners and know they are not alone!
Members can also contact Consumer Dispute Resolution Ltd (CDRL) as part of their membership. In an event where a dispute cannot be settled by the bridal shop, Consumer Dispute Resolution (formerly The Retail Ombudsmen) can step in to help and will also keep you completely up-to-date on all legislations coming in that may affect our businesses. By engaging with Consumer Dispute Resolution, retailers can put difficult complainants at arm’s length while they investigate their complaint.
They also provide a legal advice service, so it is another welcome benefit to RBA members.
To find out more about the The RBA, visit rbaltd.org.uk/contact
Richard Lill | Lionheart Portfolio | Vice Chair: BBSA
One of the many benefits of the BBSA is that we have a vast knowledge pool, based on hundreds of years combined experience, and we are always on hand to offer advice and help to all our members.
This is an upsetting and unfair situation and one that is difficult to resolve; it is also one I have had personal experience of. You need to prepare yourself for a rocky road, because you may find yourself in a scenario where you are “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t”.
The problem is that you are dealing with a ‘silent assassin’, one who is not basing their attack on fact. Key to your winning this ‘battle’ is sticking to the facts and not being scared to put your side of the discussion across in a factual dispassionate way, acknowledging the other party’s view and correcting it.
When someone takes to social media, then they have to understand the consequences and you have to do what you need to do to protect your reputation, name and business.
You need to know the motivation behind the attack and, once you do, the best way to tackle the problem and which buttons to press for maximum impact.
- You can contact a solicitor who will send a ‘cease and desist’ letter, stating that if they do not undertake to stop and/or retract what they have said, then you may take legal action against them.
- You could contact the administrators of the social media platforms and canvas to have negative comments removed; however, the problem you face is that with every ‘Share’ and ‘Like’ the post receives, damage could ripple out further.
- You could contact the local press. They have a responsibility to report the truth and there are always two sides to every story, so you have a right to put yours over, too.
- You could consider placing a statement in the public domain naming the person concerned and correcting the information they have put out. If you decide to go down this route, do it keep your comment calm and transparent. You may be surprised at the support you receive from many happy brides whose dreams you have made come true over the years.
- The other option is the hard one. Take on board that you can’t deal with this behaviour and let it run its course. Remain dignified and rise above it. Believe in how good you are.
A godsend and a curse
I hope all ‘keyboard warriors’ take heed of your situation and think before they make misplaced and untrue comments on public or private forums/platforms.
Once things are out there, they can never truly be retracted and the culprits they need to understand the damage they can cause. Social media is a godsend and curse in equal measures. Stay strong.
To find our more about the BBSA, visit bridalsuppliers.co.uk/contact
Steven Lang | CEO Mon Cheri Bridals | President: ABPIA (American Bridal and Prom Industry Association)
This is a tough spot to be in, because it’s important to acknowledge the customer’s feelings while at the same time you still want to protect your business from what you feel is an unfair review.
I would suggest that the retailer should remain polite and keep their reply simple, short and sweet.
They should also specifically acknowledge the customer’s concerns, sincerely apologise and thank them for providing this very important feedback.
Point out the positive reviews you’ve received from the numerous weddings that you have successfully dressed and explain that you’re equally disappointed along with her that her event did not go as expected.
Explain that being in this industry for numerous years, you know just how significant the big day is for the bride. Reassure her that the issue has been resolved for the future, and you could consider offering a small discount or freebie to them, to welcome the reviewer back to dress her for her next special event.
It’s very important to avoid including your business name and location in the reply. This makes the negative review less likely to be prioritised and found in search engines like Google. You do no want other brides, unaware of said review, to stumble across negative press when they’re searching for your boutique.
Finally, the retailer should insist on moving the conversation offline so that they can give the customer the one-on-one attention she deserves.
To find out more about the ABPIA, visit abpia.org
Stephen L Sidkin | Partner: Head of Commerce and Technology | Fox Williams LLP, Solicitors
No one wants to be the subject of spiteful social media and forum comments. However, in the circumstance when such an event might happen, you should look to see whether the particular social medium on which the comment appears has a ‘taken down’ policy.
If so, you may have to explain why it is that the comment in question is spiteful in order to make ‘taken down’ progress.
If not, consider whether there an opportunity to reply to the commentator? If this is the case, you may choose to take up that opportunity. However, beware of throwing more wood onto the fire – if you do not use sensible wording, you might do more damage than good to something that might otherwise have been a five-second wonder.
Depending on how spiteful is spiteful, the other options involve the law. How, you ask? Let me explain:
The comment may be considered as libellous. However, take note: libel is not an easy claim to make, and invariably results in significant legal fees.
The comment may also constitute a criminal offence. The police, on the other hand, may not view it in such a way. Even if they do, matters will be out of your hands – a prosecution will be something over which you do not have control.