On third-party web platforms, unhappy customers can say whatever they like. The danger is that this could lead to malicious content being posted which can ultimately cost your firm money. 

Paul rogerson

Paul Rogerson

So declared one recent article on the pros and cons of using ‘customer’ review websites to boost business. If the first sentence of that statement were ever true, it certainly isn’t now. Last month we reported how a disgruntled client who posted unsubstantiated defamatory claims about a law firm on just such a site – Trustpilot - has been ordered to pay a whopping £25,000 in damages.

A substantial sum, to be sure (if the money is ever paid). Yet one wonders how the firm thus traduced weighs the episode in the round. That a law firm would open itself up to brickbats in this way has always struck me as inherently risky. Legal advice is not something one buys in anticipation of the pleasure the purchase will bring of itself – unlike a trip to a decent hotel or a slap-up meal.  It is a means to an end – buying a house, ensuring the right people inherit your worldly goods, winning a dispute. Sometimes that end cannot be achieved and it will be no fault of the solicitor. Yet the ‘customer’ may still be unhappy and inclined to lash out.

Moreover, it is generally accepted that for customer reviews to work as a marketing tool, you need at least a few negative reviews alongside the positive. Exposing a few shortcomings – and, importantly, details of how a firm addressed them – will help to build customer trust.

I am not convinced. If I see the odd negative review of a restaurant, or a hotel, alongside many positive reviews, I may be inclined to scepticism. Some people are impossibly querulous and one hears stories of customers threatening negative reviews in search of a discount. Competitor sabotage is hardly unknown, either.

I would be far less inclined to regard a negative review of a law firm with similar insouciance. One’s interactions with the solicitors’ profession can be life-changing, after all. Who would want to take even the smallest chance?

Word of mouth is still the best recommendation.