You already know how important online presence is to growing your business. I’m sure you’ve also heard that more and more, customers look to the web first when researching a product or service, including finding a new doctor. What you may not know is that engaging with reviews is just as important as having them. Your active presence can help build trust and will show current and potential patients that you genuinely care about them. Creating that habit can be one of the most important tools you have in building your business over time and keeping a dedicated patient following.
As your business grows, no matter how hard you work to build positive online presence, you will inevitably encounter negative reviews for reasons both inside and outside of your control. It happens to everyone. What will truly set you apart from the rest is how you handle it.
The best thing to do is panic, play the blame game, get in a fight with the reviewer, have remorse about it, delete your social media account, and start over.
I know. Getting a bad review doesn’t feel like a joke. It can leave you feeling like the ground has been swept out from under you, it can cause misplaced frustration, lower morale, and dissuade potential customers. It can be particularly tough for a small business because every patient counts. That’s exactly why these comments should never be ignored. What is difficult to realize in these moments is that negative and neutral reviews can actually provide a huge opportunity for your business if handled with grace and professionalism. The great news is all you need to do is be prepared and have a plan.
Here are 6 simple steps you can follow:
1. Read your reviews
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s actually not. It can be difficult to take time out of your busy schedule to monitor the reviews on all of your social sites. If you’re low on time, ask one of your office staff to keep an eye on the sites and keep you updated with new and noteworthy reviews. However, you should always make sure that someone with authority is responding. Every review is important and the easiest way to communicate that is by making sure upper management is involved.
Yes, I’m serious. Before you do anything else, let the world spin around one time.
It’s best to put it on tomorrow’s To-Do list. I’m sure we all know the tried & true advice “sleep on it.” This might be tough if things like this keep you up a night, and you prefer to exercise a take-care-of-it-now attitude. However, just remember a little time will help you separate yourself from the initial reactionary and defensive instincts, help you think about how you really want to present yourself and your company, and clear your mind about how to logically approach the complaint and solve the problem.
Whatever conclusion you draw about the review, even if you feel angry, it is important to always always always find a way to empathize with the patient before figuring out what to do next. Think about how you would feel in this situation. Have you ever felt this way about an experience before? How would you want the business to respond? What would you expect the outcome to be if you posted this review? Take the high road!
After you’ve stopped and taken a step back, don’t ignore it. Make sure you know what’s really going on and take some time to find the truth about what happened. Do a little bit of kind investigating. Pow-wow with your staff. Get all sides of the story. You may learn something you didn’t know, and it could help you find ways to ultimately improve service for all of your patients.
5. Take action
If it’s true, it’s a gift. I can hear you saying “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Stay with me. The truth is most reviews will have some basis in reality, and this one person may not be the only patient who has had this feeling about their experience. Think about it: how many people take the time to leave a one or two star review about a mediocre experience? A lot of people consider it a waste of time and just move on instead of expressing their dissatisfaction. When you get feedback, you have a chance to show off how much you care about patient experience, and the reviewer has actually given you an opportunity to make them a return client.
Fix the problem
If there is a problem to fix, great! Talk to your staff and ask them to give you feedback about how to address the problem. Let them know this isn’t an attack and remember it is in their best interest to solve this problem with you. When the staff can help patients have a better experience, it improves overall morale.
If there is a problem you can’t fix right away or altogether, that’s okay. If you are working to resolve it, people will at least respect that you are always trying to improve your business. If it’s a problem simply out of your capabilities to solve, then there’s no need to stress. You can communicate that you wish you could fix the problem and will let them know if in the future you can.
If they’re wrong, take it easy. Sometimes reviewers will make generalizations and claims that are inaccurate and misleading. Let them know your side and why things ended up the way they did, but do not play the blame game.
Put away the fists “Them’s NOT fightin’ words!”
Don’t throw yourself into the ring! Think of yourself as the referee – someone who can stand outside of the situation, and evaluate a problem. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have decided not to visit a business based on the immature back and forth some managers have on review sites. Sounds crazy, but it happens a lot! Responses that come out of a sense of pride or injustice unfortunately end up looking extremely unprofessional. While it’s understandable that you want to do everything you can to defend your business, this approach probably won’t come across the way you intend and ends up looking unsavory to a potential customer.
If it’s false, it’s still an opportunity. You may also learn that this review is genuinely coming out of left field. It’s rare, but sometimes a negative review will pop up that truly seems to have no grounding in reality, breaks the rules of the review site, or even comes in the form of a personal attack. If this happens, stay strong, defend your integrity, but NEVER fight. (more on this below)
If the claim feels unfair, or based in twisted reality, and you cannot get it removed; go back to square one and stay professional. Thank them, reiterate their concerns, and tell them you will work on it.
Ask for removal
Occasionally, you may find that a review contains false information, is fake, doesn’t describe a personal consumer experience, uses offensive language, contains a personal attack, or violates the review site’s policies. In these rare cases, it warrants sending a request to the review site politely asking for them to take down the review. You will want to very plainly explain why the comments are not grounded in truth, and be prepared to provide concrete evidence. Review sites are notoriously protective of the integrity of their reviews. Because of this, they will do their best to make sure the review that was posted is fair. With that in mind, they may not be able to respond as quickly as you’d like and your request can still be denied. Always have a plan B.
I know. I know. You’re thinking “Didn’t you JUST say ‘always respond’?” This situation is rare, but it happens. Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t fight crazy?” Some negative reviews aren’t worth thinking about. If they’re posted by somebody whose language and opinions are clearly irrational, or who’s a troll (AKA frequent complainer) you may be better off ignoring them. Likewise, if a review is on somebody’s obscure personal blog, and it’s clearly unfair, you may decide not to respond.
Unless you have the rare review that should be ignored/removed, it’s always best to take a very simple approach. Acknowledge their concerns. Thank the reviewer for providing feedback and visiting your practice. Reiterate what you understand their concerns to be, and apologize the experience wasn’t satisfactory. Be honest, be brief, and be yourself.
Apologize & Reiterate
Many times, people just need to feel that they have been heard. Express regret to hear that they had a bad experience, Briefly review what you understand their concerns to be and include pertinent information you may have found from investigating the issue. They will see you really care about customer service and actually took the time to address their issue.
Here’s an opportunity to talk a little bit about yourself. If your company has core beliefs, that’s a good place to start. “We believe every patient counts,” is a standard response, but I bet you can do better than that! Is there something you are proud of? Are you always working to better your practice? Always be brief and don’t talk about yourself too much, but allow a little bit of room to show your personality and let readers get a glimpse of who you really are.
If you were able to solve the problem internally, let them know about it! Tell them specifically how they have helped you address an issue that will help you provide better service in the future.
*If there is a problem you can’t fix, let them know you will address the problem to the best of you abilities. If it’s an ongoing issue, tell them how you are working to resolve it.
Thank & Welcome
Have you noticed this is a running theme? Thank them again for their feedback and for visiting your practice, and let them know if they are willing to give it another chance, they will be welcomed with open arms. Try these on for size:
“We would love to welcome you back to our practice when the issue has been resolved”
“We hope you’ll give us another try!”
“We would love to have an opportunity to give you a better experience!”
When appropriate, it can sometimes benefit you to have a standard offer, whether it is 20% off your next purchase, a free eye care cleaning kit, etc. Whatever it is, create a standard. Include everything else above in your response, and let them know you’d love to offer them something special because you value happy customers. However, it’s very important that this comes from a genuine place. You wouldn’t want it to come off like a bribe. Be very graceful in your offer and, if possible, do this step in a private message so that it’s even more personal.
Don’t do it alone. Once you’ve organized your thoughts and formulate a response, it’s always a good idea to run it by a trusted friend or employee before posting.
So you got a bad review and despite handling it like a total boss, your ego is still a little hurt. That’s okay. It happens to the best of us. There are much worse things that can happen and you will get through this. But if the thought of negative reviews about your practice floating around the internet are still bothering you, counteract it with more positive content. Take this as an opportunity to write an educational blog or post something funny on your Facebook page for your patients. Every yin needs a yang. You may not be able to control incoming content, but you can control what you put out.
Why bad reviews aren’t so bad
You’ve just been on a roller coaster, but here’s what has (hopefully) come out of it:
- You showed off you excellent management skills.
- You have earned the trust of existing and potential customers.
- You have identified ways to improve the patient experience.
- You’ve even put a plan in place to generate more positive content about your practice across different platforms.
The main thing to remember is to keep an open mind and focus on being empathetic. There is almost always something you can gain from the interactions social media provides. And don’t forget, you can respond to positive reviews too! Be brief, thank them for visiting, and let them know you look forward to seeing them in the future.