Dave Oremland sent me a Washington Post article last week detailing a case where small business owner Colleen Dermott of Dog Tranquility in Burke, VA was suing a client for $65,000. The client had left bad reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. She claimed that the client, Jennifer Ujimori, in leaving a bad review, had made statements that were false and damaged her small business, which had had great reviews until that point.
The facts, as far as one can tell, are that the customer was requesting a refund and the owner, on the basis of a signed agreement, refused. The customer wrote reviews critical of the business owner on several fronts and the business owner then sued for defamation.
According to the Washington Post the business owner had attempted several different ways to satisfy Ujimori — including offering a credit for a future class — but the offers fell short of a full refund and the customer refused.
Not only has the client refused the offers but she has started significant pushback against the lawyer letters and suit. First responding to the letter publicly on Yelp and then apparently taking her case public. She is asking the state to pass anti-SLAPP law to protect her 1st Amendment rights.
The Post quotes the owner as saying “It had a significant impact in that I’m a small-business owner. I have to rely on these review sites as a major source of advertising.”
I marvel at the many business owners like Colleen that seem to be willing to continually shoot themselves in the foot over reviews. Clearly both sides have gone all in. The problem though is that the business has much, much more to lose and very little to gain. This would appear to me one of those cases where even if the business wins they will lose.
While I think that there are likely two sides to this story, let’s for a second assume that the owner is totally in the right on this and that there should be no refund of any amount, the customer knew what she was getting and that the sale was final. I don’t think that but for arguments sake let’s take that position.**
How does the owner possibly come out top by filing a suit?
-She will be out thousands of dollars in legal fees.
will become has become the target of the scorn of the internet hordes who will think her evil*.
-She will get press and lots of it. It is not clear to me though that it is the sort of press that will serve her business.
Most importantly, future customers, those that care deeply about their dogs will perceive this person as inflexible, petty and vindictive. Is that the person that you want training your dog?
Assuming that the owner was not going to give a refund, what could she have done besides suing?
In her case there was plenty.
-She could have started by getting a listing at Google, which as far as I can tell she doesn’t have.
-She could have gotten some additional reviews at Google, Yelp and Angie’s list.
-She could have done some basic local SEO on her website and actually got it to rank. Her home page title tag reads: <title>Home</title>.
-She could have done limited reputation management and built out her profiles at Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.
-Christ for the cost of the suit she could have done all of that and had plenty left over to spend on a significant marketing campaign both off line and on.
This case is interesting. It shows how, if a business digs their heels in “on principal” they can easily end up with a much bigger battle on their hands than they ever could have imagined.
It’s fine and even sometimes appropriate to stand on principal (although you might want them to be better founded). But as a small business owner, once you do, think carefully about your next steps and how you want to spend your time and your money to try to improve the situation.
Here is the Yelp review posted and an update posted 1/28 followed by the owner response describing the situation:
Continue reading Why Suing Over A Review Is Rarely a Good Idea – The Case Of Dog Tranquility