How to Handle Negative Online Reviews about Your Medical Practice

Of the many elements inherent in an online marketing plan, we’ve seen few bring as much stress to our clients as online review pages.

It’s easy to see why. Everything else in a digital marketing strategy, from your website to email marketing to social media, is under your ownership and control. It’s your realm.

But Yelp? RateMDs? The review sections of your Google and Facebook listings? They’re the Wild West. They’re the realm beyond the wall in Game of Thrones. They’re the lands the light does not touch in The Lion King.

Or at least that’s the initial feeling many of our clients have. Reviews are thought of as this wild force that you are helpless against, and you only hope the patients who use them don’t have their pitchforks raised.

The instincts are to either try and ignore reviews completely or strike back defensively against negative feedback in any way possible. But neither of these approaches is going to help your practice.

It’s true that you can’t control what people say in your reviews, but you are not powerless in the face of them. You do have significant influence in your own online reviews, and exercising it effectively will let you reach out to patients in a unique way.

How so? Let’s look where worry flares hottest: negative feedback.

A Positive Approach to Negative Reviews

Negative feedback online will make just about anyone’s stomach sink, and it’s understandable why.

You work hard to treat all your patients as successfully as possible, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. That’s just life. Sometimes it does work out but the patient still isn’t happy, anyway. That too, unfortunately, is the way of things.

And what’s worse, it seems to be the people who are unhappy that are more motivated to leave their opinions! For that one negative review, there are dozens—even hundreds—of happy patients that don’t say a word (more on them later).

It stinks. We know. But here’s a silver lining:

Most people do not expect perfection when reading online reviews.

As much as you know you can’t make everybody happy, the average person does, too. In fact, having nothing but sunshine and perfection in your online reviews can actually make someone less trusting of your practice. Our suspicions of something being too good to be true start to kick in!

According to a study from Northwest University, the most amount of trust was found when average reviews ran from 4.2-4.5. It’s a range that says, “Great, but human.”

People expect there to be negative reviews. They actively seek them out! But they’re looking to see how the practice responds to them—and that’s where your opportunity to shine lies.

We’re serious!

Responding to a Negative Review

You should respond to every review you receive, but you should especially respond to negative reviews. The reason is simple.

When someone reads a negative review, they want to know that the practice actually sees it and acts on it. They want to know that you care how your patients feel both during and after an appointment, and that, if they have any concerns, they will be listened to as well.

Responding to negative feedback lets this sentiment shine through—but the approach you take is important! Following are a few tips to keep in mind when we consider a response to a bad review:

Apologize

This can be a difficult one to muster sometimes. Most people don’t want to sound like they’re coming off as at fault (especially if they know they’re not!). But at the bottom of things the reviewer is not happy. Apologizing for a negative experience shows you’d rather want all your patients to be happy—even the ones people can see are likely never to be happy with anything.

Don’t be Combative

When someone says something against your methods or practice, it is only natural to want to smack them with a mountain of evidence that you were right and they are wrong. We don’t recommend this. When you respond to a review online, remember that you are responding to everyone else who reads a review, too! If they see you retaliate against a patient, they might imagine you doing the same to them—and that’s intimidating! Provide gentle, sweeping guidance, but don’t strike out regarding specific cases.

Take Follow-up Offline

When you respond to a review, it’s possible (although not common) that the reviewer may want to follow up with you. Offer a person at your office to contact and a phone number for doing so. Not only does this show that you are willing to address concerns directly, but it helps keep potential follow-up messages from the reviewer out of public sight. This avoids potential breaches of privacy as well as things spiraling down into a public storm.

VMD Services is Your Response Team

Keeping on top of your online reviews is a big job. We know that not everyone has the office power to do so, or might not always know what to say when something needs to be said.

At VMD Services, our Integrated Local Solutions tool provides fast and consistent notifications when someone leaves a review on a major site. We go in and respond to good reviews automatically. If a bad review pops up, we provide a suggested response before any actions are taken. We know each case can have its own special circumstances, so we get you involved.

And we haven’t even scratched the surface on ways to encourage more positive feedback on your review sites! If you would like to know more about a praise-worthy reviews strategy, give us a call at 833-823-3335. We’ll be happy to speak with you.

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