Getting a negative online review can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening. You put your heart and soul into your practice. You work hard to meet and exceed every patient’s expectations and provide the best care possible. Nothing feels worse than having your work, or your practice criticized publicly by a disgruntled patient.
But take heart, not all bad reviews are bad news. Authentic negative feedback can help you unveil potential problems in your practice that need to be corrected. Plus, an occasional bad review will make the rest of your glowing reviews more authentic and provide an opportunity to show that you genuinely value your patients’ experience with your practice.
So what should you do when you get a negative review? Here are the ten things you should do right now:
1. First and foremost, take a deep breath.
Before you react, take the time to calm down and plan your response. Even if the feedback seems unfair or misguided, fight the urge to defend your practice or explain your side of the story. While a timely response is critical, a rushed response in the heat of anger can cause more damage. Come back to it as soon as you feel you can tackle the review constructively and craft a perfectly worded thoughtful response.
2. Respond quickly.
Responding within the first 24 hours is ideal. The longer a negative review lingers, the greater the damage it can cause. Most relevant review sites, such as Google and Yelp, allow you to claim your listings and opt-in to receive immediate notifications when someone leaves a review. Be sure to claim your profiles so that you can receive notifications and respond to reviews.
3. Take It Offline.
Initially, try to resolve the issue privately. Often patients voice their concerns publicly when they assume that no one is listening. When you resolve their issues privately, even if you are just giving them an ear to vent, grateful patients may be more than happy to take down or update their review. If you know who the patient is, reach out to them in person. If you don’t recognize the reviewer, you might be able to send them a message through the review site.
4. Hear them out.
Do not immediately ask them to remove the offending review and do not jump into explanations. It’s a natural first impulse to get defensive, but in this situation, you must be compassionate, kind, and attentive. A customer, or in your case, a patient is not always right, but when they complain, they usually do so because they honestly believe that their complaint is valid. Their perception is their reality. Take the time to understand their perception and use this as a learning opportunity to prevent future misunderstandings with other patients. If appropriate, own up to the problem and try to offer a way to resolve the situation. It’s not unusual to turn an upset patient into a raving fan by letting them know that you care and resolving the issue quickly.
5. Respond publicly.
If you are not able to reach the patient or resolve the issue, respond publicly. Most online review sites, including Yelp, Google, Facebook, and many others allow business owners to respond to online reviews. Responding to negative reviews shows your responsiveness and credibility. A thoughtful and caring response to a bad or downright nasty review can cause prospective patients to view your business in a positive light. While most reviews are overwhelmingly positive, potential patients expect some negative feedback. They will often read the full review and consider the context and the owner’s response. When responding to reviews, keep in mind that your response is not just a direct reply to the reviewer; you are speaking to anyone who will see the review in the future. Don’t add credibility to negative reviews by vehemently defending yourself. The more you protest, the more someone reading it will think that there might be some merit to the review. Correcting inaccuracies in the review or trying to tell your story is not as important as showing potential readers that you are open to feedback and can resolve issues constructively. Instead, your response should be carefully crafted to let your potential patients know that you care about your patients’ experience and open to feedback.
6. Show sincere appreciation for the feedback.
Even if you believe the review is either unreasonable or completely false, acknowledge the reviewer’s frustration and briefly thank them for the feedback. After all, even if the review is not completely factual, it might provide valuable information on how you can improve your practice. Furthermore, a courteous and diplomatic response can turn an angry patient into a loyal one.
7. Keep it short and polite.
A lengthy reply will appear defensive, and the more you write, the more likely you are to overshare. Instead, craft a personal but succinct response to express your concern and invite the reviewer to contact the practice to resolve the problem privately.
8. If possible, reply with your name, not the name of the practice.
It comes across as more genuine, creates familiarity, and helps make the response more personal.
9. Keep it HIPAA compliant.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 protects patients’ health information and prevent providers from disclosing any protected private health information publicly. This law applies to online reviews and makes it tricky to respond to online reviews. Even when patients decide to share their information this way, you should not in any way confirm that the reviewer was indeed a patient in practice or spill any personal details. So how should you respond? Avoid saying anything that could be considered protected patient information. Instead, keep it general - briefly thank the reviewer for the feedback, acknowledge their frustration without admitting fault, express concern and invite them to contact you or your practice directly to resolve the issue. If appropriate, use your response as an opportunity to mention something positive or noteworthy about your practice that any potential patient reading this review would appreciate hearing.
10. Keep in mind that some reviews are best left alone.
Head George Bernard Shaw’s advice: “I’ve learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” Do not respond to internet “trolls” or anyone who is blatantly attacking your practice in an attempt to ruin your reputation. Your response may simply add fuel to the fire and prompt further attacks from the reviewer. Some reviews are so colorful, they say more about the personality of the reviewer than the practice. In fact, an occasional bad review may lend credibility to the other positive reviews on the review site. Potential patients will see such reviews for what they are and will give more weight to reviews that appear reasonable and well written.
No matter how well you run your practice and how much thought and care you put into every patient interaction, you cannot protect yourself from getting an occasional negative review. Having a consistent strategy in place for acquiring positive, 5-star reviews from your real patients will go a long way towards making an occasional lousy review painful. Your positive reviews will offset any negative ones and may push the negative ones down the page. But if you happen to get a bad review, use the 10 steps outlined above to manage your reputation and create your own narrative.
Related Article: How To Respond To Positive Online Dental Reviews
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Dr. Gina Dorfman is one of the Co-founders of YAPI and a practicing Dentist in Santa Clarita, CA. She opened up her first practice in 2002. She is also a published author and speaker. Dr. Dorfman loves spending every minute of her free time with her husband and their kids, Mila and Lenny.