The Consumer Review Fairness Act: Protecting Your Right to Honest Reviews

In an era where online reviews heavily influence consumer decisions, it’s crucial for businesses and consumers alike to understand the Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA). This piece of legislation aims to protect the integrity of online reviews and ensure that businesses don’t suppress honest feedback from their customers.


What is the Consumer Review Fairness Act?

The CRFA was passed in 2016 to address the issue of businesses using gag clauses in their contracts to prevent customers from leaving negative reviews. These clauses often threatened customers with lawsuits or fines if they shared unfavorable experiences. The CRFA made such clauses void and unenforceable, empowering consumers to voice their opinions without fear of retaliation.


Key Provisions of the CRFA

  • Prohibits Non-Disparagement Clauses: Businesses cannot include clauses in their form contracts that restrict a consumer’s ability to review their products, services, or conduct. This covers a wide range of platforms, including review websites, social media, and even in-person communications.
  • Protects Against Penalties: Companies cannot impose fines or penalties on consumers for leaving negative reviews. They also cannot threaten legal action or demand the removal of reviews as a condition of receiving a refund or other compensation.
  • Empowers Regulatory Action: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is authorized to take enforcement action against businesses that violate the CRFA. This can include civil penalties and court orders to stop the practice of using non-disparagement clauses.


Why Does the CRFA Matter For Businesses?

The CRFA creates a level playing field where consumers can share their experiences honestly, both positive and negative. While it might seem daunting, the CRFA actually offers businesses several benefits:

  • Builds Trust: Authentic reviews, even negative ones, build trust with potential customers. Consumers are savvier than ever and are more likely to trust a business that has a mix of reviews rather than only glowing recommendations.
  • Identifies Areas for Improvement: Negative reviews can provide valuable insights into areas where your business can improve its products, services, or customer experience.
  • Opportunity to Respond: The CRFA doesn’t prevent you from responding to negative reviews professionally and constructively. This demonstrates your commitment to addressing customer concerns and can turn a disgruntled reviewer into a loyal customer.

How to Stay Compliant with the CRFA

  • Review Your Contracts: Carefully examine all your form contracts (terms of service, membership agreements, etc.) and remove any clauses that restrict or penalize consumers for leaving reviews.
  • Educate Your Staff: Ensure that all employees who interact with customers understand the CRFA and do not discourage or threaten customers from leaving honest feedback.
  • Develop a Review Response Strategy: Create a plan for how to handle negative reviews constructively. Address concerns, offer solutions when possible, and thank reviewers for their feedback – even if it’s critical.


The CRFA and Your Online Reputation

It’s important to remember that the CRFA doesn’t mean you have no control over your online reputation. Here’s what you CAN do:

  • Provide Excellent Customer Service: The best way to generate positive reviews is to deliver exceptional products and experiences that go above and beyond customer expectations.
  • Encourage Reviews: Proactively ask satisfied customers to write reviews. Make it easy for them by providing links to review sites or sending follow-up emails.
  • Address Negative Reviews: Respond to negative reviews in a timely and professional manner. Acknowledge the issue, apologize when appropriate, and try to find a resolution. Many customers will revise a negative review if they feel heard and see you taking their concerns seriously.
  • Report Fake Reviews: If you suspect a review is fraudulent, most review platforms have mechanisms for reporting and removing them.
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