Take control of your veterinary practice's online reputation


Got a negative review? You can still survive and thrive in the veterinary world by following these simple steps.

Your client left you a little gift in the form of a scathing online review. Now what? Hang up your white coat and consider your career over? Not so fast. Here's what to do to mitigate the damages and recover your reputation.

1. Consider the source

First things first: Who wrote the review? Is it legitimately a client, or is it a disgruntled employee? Not all review sites require posters to use a real name, but with a little digging you might be able to figure out the content source. If the situation rings a bell with you or one of your staff members, you could determine the client's name that way.

Once you figure out who wrote it, it's time to contact that person. You must handle the call politely, professionally and non-defensively. The practice owner or manager should call the client directly, never a receptionist. I would say, "Mrs. Jones, this is Dr. Mike at ABC Veterinary Hospital. It was brought to my attention that you wrote a review about my practice online. It appears that you had a negative experience here. Would you be willing to talk with me about this?"

In most of these cases, simple miscommunications cause clients to head for the Internet to share their grievances with the world. A phone call often can clear up the matter. If you're able to resolve the situation, I'd try to correct the problem and ask the client to remove the posting. If the client still won't remove the posting, write an email to the host website, inform them of the situation and ask for it to be removed. If that doesn't work, post a response to the client on the site.

If you determine the author is a disgruntled employee, time to take another tack. If the person still works for you and has violated a policy stated in your employee manual, you then have grounds for disciplinary action or termination.

A former employee can be handled another way. First, as you would do with a client, call the person to see if a simple miscommunication is at the root of the issue. Calmly lay out the facts, ask the employee for his or her take on the story, and work toward an agreement. Then, ask him or her to remove the post. If he or she refuses, you'll have to take further steps to address the situation. (See "Contact the authorities".)

2. Dilute the bad

Generally, people don't put all their stock in one bad review. If they see 30 posts singing your praises and one bad review, they're likely to mentally filter out the bad. You can encourage satisfied clients to visit your business page on social media sites, too, which can help dilute the (hopefully few-and-far-between) bad reviews.

Many clients are happy to write reviews about your practice and post them online. Some practices even feature a kiosk in their reception area where clients can check email, look up pet information, subscribe to pet insurance or write a practice review while still in the building.

And don't count out your loyal clients as tools of dilution: Several times I've seen clients take it upon themselves to condemn others' negative reviews while showering a practice with praise—be sure to thank these clients for their kindness.

3. Respond, kindly

Some Internet review sites allow you to respond to a negative posting. If this is the case, be careful how you word your response so you don't come off as defensive. That could backfire, making you sound as if you have something to hide.

Instead, say something like, "I'm sorry our client had this experience at our hospital. It's never our intention to have anyone leave without receiving the best care and service."

You could leave it at that or you could explain your side of the story. Lay out the facts and let the public make up their minds about who was right.

4. Contact the authorities

If a client or disgruntled employee persists in spreading untruths, consider contacting your attorney. The attorney probably can't do much, as you'd need to prove damages. However, the attorney can send a letter that threatens litigation for defamation of character. Often that's enough to persuade people to remove the posting.

You also can write the site administrator where the inaccurate review was left and ask for the post to be removed. Some sites are more responsive than others, but if you can prove the posting is false, they'll usually remove it.

So take the reins on those negative reviews and continue to build a strong business reputation—and hopefully an even stronger client base.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, is owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo. Please send questions or comments to ve@advanstar.com.

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