A negative online review would never happen to you, right? You are an amazing doctor, you have a great staff and you take pride in providing the highest level of service to your patients. The truth is that even if you and your staff do everything in your power to please, delight and take great care of your patients, negative online reviews can happen to anyone. President Lincoln said it best: “You can please most of the people some of the time, some of the people most of the time. but none of the people all of the time”.
The ever-increasing use of review websites and social media now allows dissatisfied patients and even ex-employees to share their frustrations with thousands. If patients feel like they were underserved by you (whether they really were or not), they want to share it with the world. In the past, this meant telling their spouse and a few co-workers, but today, it means taking to Yelp, Angie’s List or any other review website to tell their story. In short, people love to “vent” and they want as many people as possible to validate their feelings.
A negative review can do nothing but harm to you and your practice’s hard-earned reputation. How? According to the Opinion Research Corporation, 84 percent of Americans say online customer reviews have an influence on their decision to purchase a product or service. Today’s consumer has been conditioned to read reviews prior to making a purchase decision. That means prospective patients will Google you before calling your office and they will be looking for any negative reviews about your practice that show up.
So, what do you do if it happens to you? For dentists who have worked hard to build a practice, a negative review can often feel like a personal attack. That is an understandable feeling, but simply ignoring the review and “hoping” it will eventually get lost somewhere in the depths of the Internet isn’t a good strategy. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to diffuse a negative review:
Turning lemons into lemonade
According to a Harris Interactive survey, it is possible to turn unhappy customers into brand advocates. The report found that by proactively addressing negative reviews:
34% removed their original negative review
33% then posted a positive review
By simply responding you can set yourself apart. The study also found that 61% of consumers said they would be shocked if a business responded to their negative comment.
How to respond to a negative review
1. Respond as quickly as possible
Every day that goes by without a response is potentially costing you new patients. If a prospective patient sees that the review has sat unanswered for too long, they will assume you don’t care. A timely response is the first step.
2. Own the issue
Acknowledge their dissatisfaction. If it was an obvious mistake on the part of you or your staff, say so. If not, you don’t have to agree with their claim; however don’t come across as defensive.
3. Be thankful, respectful and polite
Thank the patient for providing feedback. Stress that you are continually striving to make the patient experience as positive as possible and you value feedback from your patients because it helps you improve your service, processes, staff training, etc.
4. Explain how you have addressed the problem and that future patients will not experience the same issues
Tell prospective patients what action has been taken to ensure that this will not happen again. Use this as an opportunity to put a positive spin on it by telling prospects that you have a new process in place and that you take patient satisfaction very seriously.
5. Offer to fix the issue for the reviewer
Without divulging any personal information (HIPAA laws), offer to make it right. This may include refunding all or a portion of what the patient paid, offering to fix the problem at no charge, calling their insurance company on their behalf – whatever the situation warrants. Consider it a marketing expense that will pay big dividends.
6. Communicate directly with the patient (phone, email, postal mail)
If you’re able to identify the reviewer, contact them directly and make the same offer(s) as discussed in item 5 above. Also, ask them to remove the negative review.
7. Never get into a debate online with the reviewer
This one is self-explanatory. Move the conversation offline.
Prospective patients are more likely to trust a practice who takes time to respond to reviews with the goal of improving service. People will naturally be drawn to a practice that displays a human side.
The Customer Isn’t Always Right
While you never want to start a fight with any patients, there are ways to protect you and your practice against harmful reviews. Here are two examples in which you may have substantial grounds to take action to have the negative review retracted and removed:
1 – The Review Isn’t Based on a Personal Experience: Reviews, whether positive or negative, must be based on personal experience and if they aren’t (and can be proven they aren’t), businesses have every right to demand the review be taken down or in extreme cases, sue to ensure it does come down. If you notice a negative review on your practice profile on sites like Yelp or Google, but have no record of that patient ever being treated, you should certainly pursue having that review removed. It won’t be an easy process and there is no guarantee of a positive outcome, but if the review is negatively affecting your practice, it is worth the effort.
2 – The Review Isn’t True (And You Can Prove It): Everyone (including your patients) is entitled to an opinion and essentially are also entitled to share that opinion as much as they choose to. However, they are not entitled to presenting lies about their experience with you, your practice or your staff as fact. For example, if an unsatisfied patient says that her experience was so bad at your dental practice that you must not even be board certified – yet, you are, in fact, board certified – you can demand that review be taken down because it’s simply not true. In contrast, if your disgruntled patient says that she thinks your wait times are too long or your receptionist wasn’t friendly enough, then she is entitled to that “opinion” and the review can’t be challenged legally.
Protecting Your Rep
1 – Be aware: Google your name and your practice’s name frequently and check your directory profiles on a consistent basis. Prospective patients are searching your name (even if they were referred to you) and what they find will form their first impression. Is it positive or negative?
2 – Respond: If you receive a negative review that can’t be retracted based on false information, respond to it. Remember, don’t be defensive and don’t even feel the need to explain the situation. Simply apologize and ask how you can make it right with the patient. No dentist got anywhere by arguing with their patients online for the world to see, so avoid that type of discourse at all costs.
3 – Know When you Need a Proactive Plan: There are proactive plans that dentists and dental specialists can put into place that will protect your reputation even if you don’t have any negative reviews. It takes some work to create the necessary online real estate that supports your brand in a positive way. Our team is here to help.
When it comes to your online reputation, ignorance is not bliss. The most damaging review is the one you don’t know about. If that review isn’t properly addressed, it can mean dozens of lost patients and thousands in lost revenue in a short amount of time.
Contact us to learn about our proprietary turnkey dental reputation management & brand protection program. Call us today at 214-491-6166 to discuss options and strategies that will work for you!