Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Are Negative Reviews Really Bad for Business?

Can an unfavorable review impact your business?

If properly handled, negative reviews can provide a business with an opportunity to actually boost its reputation.

With the surge of digital media and the growing use of social media, it has become extremely easy for both businesses and consumers to reach a captive worldwide audience at little to no time or expense.  Social media has helped drive many protests, actions in support, and boycotts in just a small amount of time.  This ease of access and use of social media could severely damage a business’ livelihood if the reviews or messages are negative and not addressed appropriately.

There are several considerations that should be made when deciding whether to respond to a negative review.  For instance,

  1. Does the review contain opinion, “facts,” or both?

  2. Whether to contact the person who wrote the negative review.

  3. Communicating with the company or website which hosts or published the troublesome response.

  4. Publicly responding to negative online reviews.

  5. Turn a negative into a positive, or at least an opportunity.

Another consideration offered by Yelp when deciding whether to respond is to determine if the review contains constructive criticism or is just undeniably negative.  The appropriate response for the business depends on this classification.  If the review is extremely negative and uses colorful language, it may be best to be left alone as nothing constructive could arise when emotions are involved.  When emotions are involved it will be difficult to change the person’s mind or sufficiently correct – in their subjective eyes – the problem.

It is aCustomer Service Feedbacklso important to look at reviews of other customers.  If there are more positive reviews than negative, the negative may not affect whether a future customer decides to purchase the business’ product or service.  For example, when I am deciding whether to make a purchase, I examine the online reviews.  I look to both negative and positive reviews but I only give sufficient credibility to those reviews that provide constructive feedback instead of generalizations because I want to know if the reviewers’ standards are similar to my own.  Further, some persons are suspicious of any business which has, for example, 20 reviews, all of which are positive, or all of which are “5 out of 5 stars” – that does not seem realistic to many of us.

Once the business determines that the review warrants a response, then a very effective way to neutralize the negativity is to publicly respond to the review.  A public response shows that the business is concerned that the customer was not completely satisfied with the purchase and would like to remedy the situation.  This will show other present and future consumers that the business cares about customer satisfaction and is willing to go to significant efforts to remedy any dissatisfaction.  It also shows that the business knows about the deficiency and the deficiency should be remedied going forward.

In the public response, the business should never get defensive or place blame because no one is perfect and it is impossible to satisfy everyone.  There is always going to be criticism, it is how the business handles the criticism that affects its reputation and possibly its bottom line as well.  Reaching out and offering solutions to customers is a way to not only boost customer satisfaction but it is a way to boost brand loyalty and neutralize any negative reviews.

Additionally, to facilitate helpful reviews, the business could provide discounts, rewards, or other benefits to the reviewers that provide the most comprehensive or helpful information which may benefit future purchasers in making buying decisions.  One way that a business that I have dealt with personally has succeeded in encouraging reviews is by providing the product along with a free sample of other products they supply.  Then, they sent a separate request and asked that I provide an online review and if I was dissatisfied to contact the business immediately so that any problems could be resolved expediently.

All in all, the best way to respond to a negative is with something positive.  There is an old saying which states that “you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”  That rings true not only when trying to convince someone to do the things you want them to do, but also to neutralize negative experiences.  The best form of advertising is personal experience and word of mouth (whether verbal or via the internet).  If you can turn someone’s negative personal experience into a positive by remedying the situation, you may have just turned a loss into a gain.

Friday, September 19, 2014

RCS Fails to Respond to NCCOB

Residential Credit Solutions Fails to Respond to North Carolina Commissioner of Banks

As an attorney who represents many homeowners facing foreclosure, part of my job entails helping clients obtain a loan modification while at the same time finding ways to prevent the lenders from successfully completing a foreclosure sale. Of course there are rules and federal guidelines that in theory are supposed to force a servicer to halt any foreclosure proceedings while a loss mitigation request is pending, but needless to say that doesn’t always work.

Recently, we were involved in a case with Residential Credit Solutions (RCS) as the servicer of a client’s mortgage loan. This post will summarize RCS’ inexcusable conduct towards the state and federal agencies, N.C. Commissioner of Banks (NCCOB) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). For those of you that don’t know, the NCCOB is the state agency that charters, regulates, and licenses various financial institutions operating in North Carolina. Its mission is “to promote and maintain the strength and fairness of the North Carolina financial services marketplace through the supervision and regulation of financial service providers in that marketplace.”

It is not uncommon for us to have to file a comHouse Keys, Stack of Money and Foreclosure Notice - Cash for Keys Program.plaint with the NCCOB and CFPB when a loan servicer fails to act in compliance with the rules and guidelines. Most of the time, the servicers will respond to the complaints and try to correct the previous errors. However that was far from the case here.

We filed complaints regarding RCS’ actions, including but not limited to, RCS creating a fake sale date, violating the cease and desist by contacting our clients, and refusing to review our client’s request for loss mitigation due to incorrect information in its system (see an earlier post for the full story).

In response to the complaints, RCS sent a letter with false and misleading statements regarding our claims to the NCCOB and CFPB, but most importantly provided the non-existent foreclosure sale date as the basis for its actions. RCS’s response also alleged no loss mitigation request had been filed, which directly contradicted previous written and verbal communications from RCS itself acknowledging receipt of the request.

We disputed RCS’ erroneous response and the NCCOB sent a letter to RCS requiring a response to our dispute with an explanation of the non-existent foreclosure sale date. RCS ignored the NCCOB and did not respond to this second phase of investigation.

Next, the NCCOB sent a follow up letter to RCS acknowledging its failure to respond to the dispute in violation of the NC SAFE Act. When RCS finally did respond (a day after the required deadline), the response was filled with multiple errors referencing past inexistent foreclosure sale dates and failures to provide information that we had in fact provided to RCS multiple times.

To no surprise the pattern endures, we continue to point out RCS’ errors and misleading information while RCS repeatedly provides the wrong information. The most recent violation by RCS was telling the NCCOB that the foreclosure hearing had been canceled and was not rescheduled, but yet, we received a copy of a Notice rescheduling the foreclosure hearing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Does it Matter Where I Die? Your State and Estate Taxes

Why Does it Matter Where I Die? Your State and Estate Taxes

I just read an interesting article in Forbes that came out last week titled "Where Not To Die In 2015". There, the author talks about the changing landscape of inheritance and estate taxes across all of the individual states. She quotes an estate planning attorney in New Jersey who has a client who is retired and who is also making $500,000 in income. The retiree is planning on moving his residence from New Jersey to his house in the Hamptons in New York. As the attorney says in the article, "When your bordering state is telling you, 'Come on over!' the pitch is compelling." New Jersey is one of two states (Maryland being the other) that charges an estate tax and a separate inheritance tax.  By contrast, New York recently raised its exclusion for its estate tax from $1,000,000 to $2,062,000 and will gradually raise that exemption limit to $5,250,000 by April 1, 2017. By January 1, 2019, it will be indexed with the federal exclusion amount. As you will see below, that still is not great compared to most states (particularly the ones in the Southeast part of U.S.) but it is step in the right direction for people who want to pass on their legacy to loved ones.

Currently, there are nineteen states and the District of Columbia that have a "death tax", which taxes the estate that someone leaves on a state level in addition to the federal estate tax. Some states, such as New York, charge an estate tax, by which a tax is levied based on the amount of the decedent's estate, and other states, such as Pennsylvania, which charges a tax based on who receives a decedent's property. As far as individual state taxes go, Pennsylvania's is particularly harsh because there is no exemption or exclusion amount for anyone who has to pay the tax (which is essentially everyone but the spouse or underage child of the deceased).

Estate Planning - TaxesFortunately, the trend nationwide is to repeal inheritance and estate taxes. My home state of North Carolina repealed its estate tax in 2013. So did Indiana and Ohio that same year. Kansas and Oklahoma repealed theirs in 2010.

What does this all mean for you? Well, for example, let's say you live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and you have an estate valued at $1,000,000. If you intend on leaving everything to your adult children, you would not owe any Federal estate taxes because the current Federal estate tax exemption in $5,340,000. However, the estate will be subject to a 4.5 percent or $45,000 state inheritance tax. If you are childless and want to leave everything to your sister, the state inheritance tax rate skyrockets to 12 percent and the tax due is $120,000. By contrast, the same person intending to leave that same amount in Charlotte, North Carolina, will not have any tax due, whether it is an inheritance tax or an estate tax (assuming that the property is in North Carolina).

The bottom line is that if you have a substantial estate, where you die could have a significant impact on what you plan on leaving to your families. So, for those of you in states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or Maryland, those of us in North Carolina and Florida (and handful of other states) encourage you to come down here to retire!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rehabilitating the NFL Brand by a Lawyer & Panthers' Fan

Rehabilitating the NFL Brand – by a Lawyer & Panthers’ Fan

americanfootballThe NFL has gotten a lot of negative publicity recently regarding its handling of several incidents of violence committed by several high profile players. Although the NFL claims to have handled these instances of violence within their Personal Conduct Policy there were several “after-the-fact” deactivations this week and an indefinite suspension designed to defend its reputation with the public. The NFL is a business and its business model relies heavily on the support of fans in order to be successful. The late decisions to deactivate and suspend players proves that the fan base is an important component of the NFL’s business. The NFL’s recent disciplinary actions sends an unclear message to the professional players and the public as to the consequences of a player’s off-field actions.

The NFL may or may not discipline the player prior to any adjudication of the action in court but once you insert wide-scale media coverage and great public disagreement with the actions of the player, the NFL will step in to discipline the player. Players should be disciplined consistently regardless of who may be watching.

In order to maintain the integrity of the NFL brand, definite policies outlining the consequences of a player’s off-field actions should be adopted. Our society was built on rules and enforcement of those rules through legislation and judicial enforcement. The benefit that the players would receive with a more clearly defined rule structure is awareness of the consequences of their actions on their careers. As attorneys who represent business owners and professionals, we are well aware that one of the most common complaints is a lack of clear communication between ownership, management, and other employees; this includes a failure to communicate expectations and the consequences of failing to meet them.The rule book

Consumer confidence is valuable to any company and a set of definite guidelines that are followed consistently will build consumer confidence in the NFL and show that the organization stands behind its promise to not tolerate violent conduct – at least off the field.

Playing professional sports is an opportunity that very few people have. Those who get that privilege would greatly benefit from knowing exactly what will happen if their conduct falls short of what is expected of them. They must also keep in mind that if they can’t follow the rules, there are plenty of talented individuals waiting to take their places.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

RCS Creates Fake Foreclosure Sale Date in North Carolina

Creating a Fake Foreclosure Sale Date to Avoid Loss Mitigation?

As an attorney who represents many homeowners in mortgage relief, mortgage dispute, and foreclosure cases, I have seen some illogical and bizarre actions by many of the loan servicers. In fact, many of the loan servicers are large financial institutions that you and I both know by name. The most recent case involves Residential Credit Solutions (RCS) and a borrower in North Carolina attempting to obtain a mortgage modification.

To be fair, RCS did actually offer the client a modification offer; however, the modification offer increased the monthly mortgage payment. Generally, borrowers applying for a mortgage modification cannot afford their current payment and apply with the hopes of reducing their payments to something they can afford. Thus, the lackluster offer from RCS forced our client to go down another path, a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.

DFake Stampespite receiving a complete loss mitigation application, RCS refused to consider our client’s request for loss mitigation due to a company policy that does not allow any file to be reviewed for a short sale or deed-in-lieu within 60 days of a foreclosure sale date. Not only did RCS create a rule that was in direct violation of federal guidelines, but it also created a fake sale date - there was no foreclosure sale date scheduled! We even sent RCS a certified copy of the court file as evidence that there was no foreclosure sale date, but RCS ignored that actual proof, instead stating that it could only go by “the note in our system.” Yet in contradiction to “going by notes in its system,” RCS took the liberty of notifying our client of the non-existent sale date, despite the cease and desist on file in its system.

At the second foreclosure hearing, the Clerk of Court ordered another continuance, partly due to the RCS actions / inactions above. That Order specifically stated that there was no foreclosure sale date scheduled, yet RCS still refused to consider loss mitigation, stating that there was a foreclosure date scheduled.

It gets even worse… After jumping through hoops and filing multiple complaints with federal and state agencies, RCS finally removed the incorrect sale date from its system. However, an agent at RCS informed us that it still could not review our client’s file for loss mitigation because there was a chance that there could be a foreclosure sale scheduled within the next 60 days since there was a foreclosure hearing in the next two weeks.

At the third foreclosure hearing after a detailed explanation of the situation, another Motion to Continue was granted by the Clerk of Court. The signed Order specifically stated that there was no foreclosure sale date scheduled. Finally, after five months of going back and forth with RCS, we received a letter informing us that our client’s file was being reviewed for a deed-in-lieu and requested specific documentation. Stay posted for more fun, games, and violations of law and rule by RCS.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Eligibility for Veterans Pensions - The Basics

Eligibility for Veterans Pensions - The Basics

4th July or Veterans Day IllustrationThe Department of Veterans Administration provides supplemental income through the Veterans Pension and Survivors benefit programs. There are essentially three types of pensions: Basic, Housebound, and Aid and Attendance. The Veterans Pension provides for supplementary income for low-income wartime Veterans. The Housebound Pension provides for an increase to the Veterans Pension for wartime Veterans who are confined to their place of residence due to permanent disability. The Aid and Attendance Pension provides an additional increase for Veterans who are (mostly) in a nursing home due to their condition. There is also a survivor pension available for spouses and other eligible dependents as well. The benefits range from up to $1,054 per month for a single eligible Veteran for the Veterans Pension to up to $2,085 per month for a Veteran with a dependent (spouse or other dependent). The amount that a Veteran would receive would depend on the income of the Veteran. The benefits are tax free.

Veterans Pension: To be eligible for the Veterans Pension, a Veteran would have had to have completed at least 90 days of Active Duty service and at least one of those days had to have been during a wartime period (24 months if the Veteran entered Active Duty after September 7, 1980). Additionally, the Veteran must be either 65 or older, totally or permanently disabled, a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, or receiving Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income.

Housebound Pension: Here, a Veteran would have to be eligible for the Veterans Pension above as well as be substantially confined to his or her home due to a permanent disability.

Aid and Attendance: Aid and Attendance provides the largest benefit, but it also has the strictest requirements. In addition to being able to qualify for the Veterans Pension, you have to either (1) require assistance with at least two of the six activities of daily living or ADLs (bathing, feeding, dressing, attending to the wants of nature, adjusting to prosthetic devices, or protecting oneself for the hazards of the daily environment), (2) you are bedridden due to your disability (not for rehabilitation or convalescence purposes), (3) you are a patient in a nursing home or skilled nursing facility, or (4) your eyesight is not greater than 5/200 visual acuity (uncorrected) or less in both eyes or a concentric contraction of no greater than five degrees.

Understanding the VA's pension programs is a challenge, but these are the basic descriptions of the pension programs available.