Negative online reviews: Why all the hate?

September 14, 2019
Julie Cappel, DVM

Dr. Julie Cappel owns Warren Woods Veterinary Hospital in Warren, Michigan. She served as president of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association in 2015.

If you made a mistake with a pet owner, work to make it right. But if an online review crops up thats really a veterinary clients willful misunderstanding or issues, you cant always control that. Move on, veterinary professionals. Move on.

When you get a negative review online, try to take a deep breath and remain calm. (Leonid/ veterinarians and veterinary technicians work in an industry that requires extreme levels of compassion and tolerance every day. We deal with emotional swings ranging from the joy of a litter of healthy puppies to the devastating sorrow of sudden loss of a pet-sometimes in the same hour. We do these emotional gymnastics while dealing with clients who are in a rush, questioning charges and often highly emotional about their ill pet. No wonder we struggle sometimes.

Recently, I was reminded of one of the primary reasons we veterinary professionals feel so stressed and burned out-the threat of the negative online review.

I work in a five-doctor practice that's been in business for more than 50 years. We're AAHA-accredited and have a stellar reputation in the community. Our team is extremely experienced and competent. We have hundreds of positive, five-star reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp and other platforms. We have few negative reviews, probably less than five. So, why does one negative review worry us so much?

Get proactive about reviews

The best defense against a bad online review is a collection of honest, positive reviews and the right response to angry complaints when they pop up. Start here.

It's about control. We go into every exam room with the intention of doing our best work for every client and pet. We have control over what we do and say, but we have no control over how the client thinks and feels about the experience. Visits, especially for sick pets, can be an emotionally charged experience for the client. It's no wonder that we have an occasional miscommunication, but that's no reason for a hate-filled review.

When a client leaves a negative review without addressing the problem with the veterinarian or the hospital manager, it leaves us unable to remedy the situation. When veterinarians read negative reviews about one of their cases, it leaves them feeling embarrassed, helpless and incompetent.

So, how do we handle negative online reviews? How do we read the negative thoughts of angry people and go about confidently continuing to do the difficult job that we do?

The first thing is to remain calm. Understand that a negative review is more about the client than about you. The client had a different experience than you expected and that's all it means. Responding in anger or berating yourself won't help and could only make matters worse. The client experience is their experience.

If possible, reach out to the client by phone or see if you can meet them in person to try to resolve the perceived issue. Some clients won't talk to you and won't want to resolve things. That's entirely up to them-as long as you made an attempt at reconciliation, then you've done your job.

If the you can't resolve the issue, you can reply online to the review in a polite and professional manner. Future clients will see the written response and judge your hospital by your professionalism. I try to personally respond with my name and phone number just in case clients change their minds and want to talk it out.

Once you've taken these steps, the difficult mental work of letting it go is crucial. Letting one bad review experience ruin all of your future work is unnecessary and unproductive. When you get a negative review, remember that it's not really about you. It's about the client's experience on that day and nothing else. Think of it as a neutral experience. Carrying around shame and embarrassment doesn't serve you and will prevent you from living your best life.

Dr. Julie Cappel owns Warren Woods Veterinary Hospital in Warren, Michigan. She served as president of the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association in 2015.