The scourge of any practice’s reputation is negative online reviews. They are easy to place, hard to refute and even the greatest practices are subject to at least a few posts from disgruntled patients.
Although all providers are trying to give the best patient experience possible, being prepared for the occasional negative review is also important. The good news is that, if handled properly, a negative reviewer can become your biggest advocate.
Before we get into how a doctor should deal with a negative online review, there are a couple things to consider first.
1. Where was the complaint or negative review posted?
Where a complaint is posted makes a major difference in how to approach the issue as well as its impact on your reputation. Social platforms like Twitter or your Facebook page can offer the greatest opportunity to quickly address and reverse the issue with minimal impact to your business. Sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, on the other hand, can be a more complicated issue and potentially have longer lasting effects on your online reputation.
2. Is the complaint real?
False reviews, both positive and negative, have become pervasive online. Especially on review sites like Yelp. Providing false reviews has become a lucrative black market business and in states like New York are illegal and subject to prosecution. If you believe that you are the victim of a false review you should contact the website immediately. Any review site worth its salt will want to address and remove the false review quickly as they also affect their business reputation.
The value of a negative online reviews
It seems counter-intuitive but a negative review can be a good thing for your practice. Firstly they can make you aware of deficiencies in your operations. Often, poor service is something that can be a blind spot where there are a hundred other things going on at once in a busy practice. Being clued in (even publically) can be helpful in addressing issues.
Just as important, yet often overlooked, is the opportunity to fix issues and provide great customer service in a public forum. Mistakes that are quickly remedied are typically forgiven just as quickly and the opportunity to respond, inform, and correct in a prompt and professional manner can signal to prospective patients that your practice has a focus on great customer service.
Remember, the unwillingness or inability to make up for a mistake can be worse than the mistake itself. So what is the best way to address a negative online review?
Cleaning up a bad online review
1. Respond fast
Don’t let bad feelings linger. A fast initial response is the first step to addressing online complaints. It shows the complainant and others that you are paying attention and that patient issues matter.
Check review sites you are listed on a daily basis and monitor your social media feeds multiple times a day if possible. Even a cursory “I’m sorry you weren’t satisfied please let me look into it” can be helpful. You can easily set up alerts at mentions of your business with free tools like Hootesuite and by claiming your business on Yelp.
2. Don’t be too quick to discuss the problem in private
Unless there is risk of violating privacy, try to have the conversation with your dissatisfied patient on the platform they chose.
Keep in mind however, that even if a reviewer breaks their own PHI confidentiality it is advisable that doctors not participate or else run the risk of tripping into a HIPAA violation.
Pulling a complainant into a private chat, phone call or email too quickly can give the impression that you are trying to hide your mistake. It not only eliminates the opportunity to educate and satisfy an angry patient, it also eliminates the opportunity to educate onlookers as well as give your now happy patient the means of thanking you publicly in the proper context.
3. Avoid negative language
Much like hostage negotiations and improv, words like “no” and “I can’t” are bad moves when it comes to customer service, online or offline.
Instead phrases like “I understand what you are saying but” or “I hear your frustration, here is something we can do instead”. Words like “no”, “can’t” and “won’t” can be seen as combative, especially to those who are already annoyed or angry.
A conversation that feels like both sides are working towards a satisfying conclusion deescalates tension.
4. Make amends. Even if they’re wrong
While being right always feels great, being magnanimous is better for business. A patient who leaves an especially ugly review and is subsequently corrected can feel embarrassed and negative feelings can linger.
Offering something simple like a discounted teeth cleaning or waving a copay can not only turn an angry patient into a lifer but can bring in more patients who will be impressed by your service and compassion.
How to keep overall online ratings high
Addressing individual negative online reviews is always a good idea, but if you’re trying to be found on sites like Yelp your average score is more important than any one review. So how do you ensure a great overall score?
1. Encourage as many reviews as possible
It’s simple math. The more reviews you have the less impact a negative review will have on your overall score.
If you only have five Yelp reviews, then one negative response can drop your overall score by as much as 20 percent. If you have twenty positive reviews, then a negative review only brings your average score down roughly 5 percent depending on your other review scores.
Happy patients tend to not leave reviews unless asked or reminded. On the other hand, dissatisfied patients will be on their smartphones as soon as they walk out the door. So don’t be afraid to try and convert your happy patients into evangelists.
However, be sure to play by the rules of the review site when asking for reviews. For example, Yelp discourages businesses from asking for reviews, where you’re free to do so on Facebook.
2. Know how to contest a false review
Knowing the proper protocol for refuting a false or inflammatory review differ from site to site. On the whole there is no platform that will delete a review immediately so the faster you can start the process the better.
Most sites like Yelp will tell you exactly how to report a review. They also say however that “we don’t typically take sides in factual disputes and generally allow Yelpers to stand behind their reviews.” So be prepared for the review to stand unless you…
3. Do some investigative legwork
While Yelp may not get into the facts of a review they will certainly consider suspicious activity like:
- A consistent history of bad reviews, especially in one particular industry.
- Inconsistent geography. Has the reviewer left comments on multiple businesses in an array of cities in a short period of time?
- Repetitive language. Does it seem like the reviewer is copying and pasting their reviews?
If a pattern develops that suggests that the reviewer might be fraudulent you might be able to make a case for having a review (and reviewer) removed.
4. Lawyer up
This is the atom bomb of all your options. As with any litigation the process can be expensive and long, but if a review has become extremely detrimental to your practice it may be the only option. Regardless of a review sites final decision they will respect a court order to have a review removed.
A good online reputation will grow your practice
Reputation management can be a time consuming process and dealing with unhappy patients can be a drain on time and resources. But remember, your reputation is your practice.
Because patients can’t get a trial of your new MRI machine or sample your teeth cleanings, they are inevitably going to rely on the word of others. In the age of the internet that means listening to the words and experiences of strangers online.
Being proactive in managing your online reputation will help make sure that reviews of your practice are helping and not hurting you.