How to Deal with Bad Online Reviews

January 23, 2017
VMD Staff

Today, the success of your practice is inextricably linked its online reputation. So, what should you do if you’re faced with a negative review?

No matter how good the clinical skills, bedside manner, or client service capabilities of a practice are, the fact is that every practice has to deal with unhappy clients at some point.

Some of these unhappy clients may go to social media sites like Yelp or Facebook to describe your practice and services in not-so-flattering (and not always entirely truthful) detail. Regardless of the nature of the complaint, keep in mind that negative reviews can be a powerful way to sway other potential clients from patronizing your practice.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep client complaints from escalating. If you have to deal with negative online reviews in your practice, ask yourself these questions before you do anything else.

Is the client’s concern justified?

Even if your displeased client is the chronic complainer type, don’t disregard the possibility that he or she has a legitimate reason for complaining. Did you and your team deliver care according to your own standards? If not, consider a formal, personal apology and see if there is an additional service you can provide that would ameliorate the situation for the client. Many cases of client unease can be satisfied simply by you or your team taking responsibility for your actions and correcting them.

Is there anything about your practice that needs addressing?

A look at the negative comments on review websites shows that roughly one-fifth of the posted complaints are related to the actual veterinary care provided. The majority of complaints involve long wait times or rushed veterinarians who don’t seem to be fully engaged with the patient. Another third or so of the complaints are related to customer service issues, including staff rudeness or billing concerns. If you’re seeing complaints about rushed service, consider adjusting your scheduling practices so you can allot more time with each patient. If you’re getting complaints about customer service, address issues with staff and billing coordinators.

Is the client chronically unhappy with your services?

Some clients may not be interested in pursuing further action such as a malpractice judgment but instead simply want to complain to someone. Always remain calm with such clients. If the complaint is about a member of your staff, make sure you hear the client out, listen carefully to his or her concerns, and document your conversation, as well as any services rendered, as fully as possible.

With some clients, if things are spiraling out of control, you may want to gently suggest they seek another practice to care for their pet. You might both be better off.

Should you resort to legal action?

In most cases, there is little more to be gained by pursuing a lawsuit other than an additional helping of bad publicity. That’s not to say that legal action is ill-advised in all cases, but it should be a last resort after you’ve exhausted all other options.

Whatever you do, don’t do this...

Whatever step you take to mitigate the situation, it’s important to remember two things you should never do. Never ignore an unhappy client, and never enter into a negative conversation online. The first usually serves to fester the situation, while the second is most likely to lead to more negative publicity when you want less. Take proactive, professional steps to address the client’s concerns, and you may find the problem addressed before it gets out of hand.