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How To Protect Yourself From Negative Reviews Online

Online reviews have really taken off over the last 5 years and there are countless studies (here, here, and here [pdf link] for example) showing how they influence consumers’ purchasing decisions.

Similarly, patients looking for a new doctor or dentist are being influenced by other patients who review their treatment online. These reviews present both an opportunity for and a threat to the businesses of doctors and dentists. In this article we will look at how you can protect your reputation and career from negative reviews online.

The Four Types Of Reviewer

  1. Members Of A Review Community (Yelp, Qype, etc) – They have reviewed large numbers of businesses and services and their review style can be easily profiled. Looking back at their previous reviews it is easy to see if they are fair and reasonable, and their reputation is built upon being consistently unbiased. Their reputation in turn adds considerable weight to the strength of their reviews. Some doctors have over 100 reviews on Yelp.
  2. People Who Are Encouraged To Write A Review – Businesses often ask previous customers to review the product or service delivered. For instance WhatClinic.com asks patients to review their treatment experience. As you’d expect there is a fairly normal distribution between positive, neutral and negative reviews.
  3. Superfans – They have had such a great experience that they actively want to share their experience with other people online. These people are very rare and are usually created when a clinic far exceeds the patients’ expectations.
  4. The Very Unhappy – People who for one reason or another feel they have had an exceptionally bad experience. Thankfully these are also very rare, but in many instances they will try and post their review on as many sites as possible. Unfortunately this means their negative review can affect you and your clinic’s reputation disproportionately.

How To Protect Yourself Online

Everyone gets bad reviews at one stage or another. It’s never nice to see someone talking negatively about your clinic, and it’s even worse when a colleague or patient is the one to bring it to your attention. The secret to protecting yourself from bad reviews though is to start to build your online reputation before this happens.

Negative reviews only have real significant power if they stand alone. Believe it or not single negative review in a sea of positive reviews actually adds authenticity to the positive reviews!

As a clinic owner or manager you should start soliciting reviews now. Find the websites that Google sources its reviews from (including WhatClinic.com) and point your customers to those sites. Print a message asking them to review your clinic online on the back of your receipts and reminder cards, and remember that repeat patients are your best bet for favourable reviews. After all, if they didn’t like you they wouldn’t be coming back. Develop your online reputation now before someone else starts doing it for you in a negative way. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

What To Do When You Get A Negative Review

Most negative reviews occur because the patient feels like they have been mistreated somehow. How you respond to the negative review can either compound their grievance or potentially convert them into a positive advocate for your company. There are two clear steps to follow:

  1. Reply To The Review Online. You need to publically acknowledge the grievance in the same place that the review appears. In fact you should try and reply to all reviews, positive and negative. By replying to negative reviews you are demonstrating that you care about the patient’s issue and that you want to address it rather than hide from it. You should apologise, tell the patient that you are upset that they feel this way, and that you would like to speak to them personally about their issue.
  2. Contact The Patient Directly. You need to let the patient speak at length about why they feel the way they do. You need to listen carefully and suggest a way that you might be able to address their grievance.

Typically if you can manage to resolve the issue the reviewer will be happy to revisit their review and either edit it or amend it. Even if they don’t your online reply at least informs potential new patients that you care enough to try and resolve issues when they come up.

Don’t Make These Mistakes

It’s very easy to make a bad situation worse by reacting without properly thinking through the consequences. Here are some of the most common mistakes you need to avoid when replying to negative review:

  • Do not breach patient confidentiality. Even if the patient publishes personal medical information online, you may not.
  • Do not be confrontational or aggressive.
  • Do not suggest that they are lying or call into doubt any aspect of their review.
  • Do not engage in an online conversation. Reply to the review once and contact the patient directly, you should not discuss with a patient in a public forum even if they want to.

Going Down The Legal Route

If a review is defamatory, then a letter from your lawyer may get the review taken down. This only applies if the website operates in certain jurisdictions though. Most notably it won’t work if the website is based in the US.

Even if you do manage to get the review removed, this kind of action typically animates the reviewer into publishing similar reviews on multiple websites. This not only makes it more likely to be found, it also means you have very little chance of turning the patient’s opinion around. On balance, going down the legal route carries as much a risk of worsening the situation as it does of relieving it.

Actively managing your clinic’s reputation is more important than ever. Be sure you give your happy customers every opportunity to tell the world that they are happy, and start doing it now. When you are unfortunate enough to receive a negative review, deal with it publicly, professionally, and politely, and whatever you do, don’t panic. Share your experiences with online review in the comments below.

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