Let me disappoint you upfront: there is no magic contract that would allow you to take down negative consumer reviews. In fact, they are protected by the Consumer Review Protection Act, a law designed to stop businesses from using contracts to prevent customers from posting honest reviews about the business. The Act came about because companies often add provisions in their contracts, including in their online terms and conditions, that threaten to sue consumers, or penalize them financially, for posting negative reviews or complaints. At a time when consumers may rely more on Yelp reviews than those of professional critics, the Act's protection of ordinary customers, no matter how difficult, is important.
Aside from the law itself, the Federal Trade Commission also published the Consumer Review Fairness Act: What Businesses Need to Know (the "Guidance"), which reminds businesses about the new Act and the risk of non-compliance. Here are some highlights:
Businesses may no longer include in a contract for the sale/lease of goods/services - other than employment/independent contractor contracts - any language that:
restricts the ability of a consumer to review the company's products, services or conduct;
imposes a penalty or fee against a reviewer; or
requires consumers to give up intellectual property rights in their reviews
While this is a huge win for average consumers, it does not entirely insulate them — and companies still have recourse against negative consumer reviews. For example, under the Act, a company can still prohibit or remove a review that:
contains confidential or private information;
is libelous, harassing, abusive, obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit, or is inappropriate with respect to race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other intrinsic characteristics;
is unrelated to the company's products or services; or
is clearly false or misleading.
So what does this mean for your company? As the Guidance states, "the wisest policy [is] let[ting] people speak honestly about your products and their experience with your company."
From a practical standpoint, your better bet is responding publicly with an attempt to mediate the issue, and to incorporate a quality check to your business process to make sure unhappy consumer has a chance to vent, and its not on Yelp.
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