Negative online reviews on websites like Yelp can affect a company’s overall rating by its customers. But how can you best handle a negative review of events that aren’t even true?

This is what happened to Peter Chapman, owner of Alaska Auto Rental. A supposed customer left a one-star review on Alaska Auto Rental’s Yelp page. The reviewer claimed that the counter agent overcharged her and wouldn’t let her keep the car an extra day. She also claimed that a tow truck took the vehicle and kicked her and her child onto the side of the road.

Chapman read the review and responded on the page in a professional manner. Through his response, he was able to clarify that she didn’t rent a vehicle from his company. In fact, the vehicle she was driving was rented by someone else and she didn’t have authorization to drive it. Additionally, the person who rented the vehicle had stopped paying for it and refused to return it as required by his rental agreement.

“After reviewing our call log, I found that the staff member who assisted you was courteous and respectful in his responses to you,” Chapman wrote in his response. “During your conversation, you became agitated and hung up on him. Our goal is to be polite and respectful to every customer. While you may not have appreciated the fact that we did not allow you to continue driving a vehicle that you did not rent or pay for, our staff informed you of the circumstances in a polite and respectful way. After you and the legitimate renter refused to return it, we located the unoccupied vehicle and recovered it.”

In his response, Chapman explained what really happened in this situation and was able to emphasize that his company still treated her with respect — even when she wasn’t a legitimate renter.

The problem with Yelp, says Chapman and others, is that there is no system yet to remove demonstrably false statements. Those reviews can be disputed in writing to inform readers, yet the one star is still counted toward the average.

Yelp’s policy regarding false or defamatory reviews is found in its online Support Center: “If you see a questionable review, please report it and include any information that our moderators can independently verify. Please note, however, that we don't typically take sides in factual disputes and generally allow Yelpers to stand behind their reviews.”

One countermeasure, at least, is to maintain quality service to drive positive reviews, to dilute the impact of negative ones. After this negative review, the same rental agent received a positive Yelp review a few days later. The customer described the rental agent as being “super helpful” and “lovely to chat with.”

A screenshot of the positive Yelp review

A screenshot of the positive Yelp review