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Turn a negative into a positive

Knowing how to respond to a client’s less-than-stellar online review can help resolve a conflict effectively and respectfully.

Turn a negative into a positive
It’s not uncommon to have clients update a review to show a better star ranking or to delete the review.

I’ve written at length about the importance of your online reputation and how you can protect and enhance it to ensure your veterinary practice thrives day in and day out. What’s less fun to discuss is how bad reviews can harm your business. It’s not a matter of if one happens but rather when. Ignoring negative reviews, however tempting it might be, is dangerous and can cause a situation involving a disgruntled client to snowball uncontrollably.

I want to help you manage bad reviews by giving you proven techniques designed to mitigate any negative effects of a review before they become a thorn in your side. Here are six simple steps for resolving conflict and restoring online confidence in your practice.

1. Respond thoughtfully and apologize for the negative experience. Emphasize that a poor experience for your clients is not typical and that you as the owner or manager want to learn more about the incident. Provide your name and telephone number so that you can be reached easily. If you are comfortable doing so, provide the hours you work.

The idea of extending yourself in this manner is to show your commitment to resolving the issue and to respond personally. To simply respond with, “We’re sorry to hear this, call us at …” feels disingenuous and can result in further backlash.

2. Next, do a bit of investigative research by pulling the client’s record. Contact the client with an understanding of where the experience or patient visit could have taken a turn for the worse. If the client does not contact you or you are unable to reach the pet owner, at least you responded personally and showcased your commitment to resolving the issue. After all, responding to reviews online should be considered an extension of your customer service efforts.

3. If the negative review involves specific details about the level of medicine or the treatment provided, do not respond publicly on the specifics. This is especially important because if you do respond in detail, you run the risk of breaching client confidentiality. It’s your responsibility to keep private any medical records and details about a patient’s condition. While veterinarians aren’t held to HIPAA-level standards — I’m referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — breaching confidentiality can get you reported to the state board. This is true even if a client initiated the conflict online.

To respond online without divulging specifics, try something like this:

“My name is Dr. Garcia and I’m the medical director of Simply Done Animal Hospital. We take your medically related concerns very seriously. As the medical director, I’d like to talk to you over the phone or in person. We want to do this to protect your privacy. Please contact me at XXX-XXX-XXXX. (Be sure to use your practice phone number and never a personal line.) I would like to discuss this case with you in further detail.”

Again, if the client does not reply or contact you, you have a public response showing your willingness to alleviate the issue.

4. When you respond thoughtfully and personally, you dramatically increase the likelihood of resolving the matter. How do I know this? Practices around the world tell me about their bad reviews and how these techniques work 90 percent of the time at resolving the original complaint.

Don’t assume that someone who leaves a bad review never wants to do business with you again. Clients usually want to get your attention by leaving the review. Your personalized response has the power to make the difference and bring them back for a second chance. You might be surprised by how much a client’s tune changes after you’ve made the effort to reach out. It’s not uncommon to have clients update a review to show a better star ranking or to delete the review.

5. Now, you might find a review from the pet owner your staff calls “Mr. Crazy.” Yes, you know Mr. Crazy. He’s the one who yelled loudly in the waiting room, berated the receptionist and slammed the door on his way out while spooking other pets in the process. Mr. Crazy even WRITES HIS REVIEWS IN CAPITAL LETTERS

BECAUSE HE’S THAT ANGRY. So, what do we do with the review from Mr. Crazy? We leave it alone!

Why would we do that? Mr. Crazy is trying to set you up for a no-win scenario. He wants to know that his review affected you and even upset you. If you reply, do not be shocked if he deletes his review, deleting your response in the process, and writes again at twice the original length. He might even recruit his family and friends to attack you and will hunt down more websites where he can leave more reviews about you. The main takeaway here? Leave him alone. It’s not worth the battle.

6. Don’t assume that any and every negative review is crazy. Many client concerns are valid, and your response to them can turn a negative experience into a positive one. Think about it. If responding to a dissatisfied client helps to alleviate their concerns, and the pet owner is pleasantly surprised upon a return visit, you may have just saved a lifetime client. This person might then recommend you to family and friends. This is just one reason that responding to negative reviews patiently and thoughtfully is so important.

Now that you know how to respond to a negative review, here are tips for disputing reviews posted on Google, Yelp and Facebook.

1. Yelp advocates for business owners by allowing them to remove erroneous reviews. You are probably laughing, but it’s true and is the one thing Yelp does do better than other review sites. If you have claimed your free Yelp listing — visit http://bit.ly/2Az5tY3 — you will be able to dispute reviews.

For example, a practice I consulted with was accused of killing a client’s cat. The clinic, however, had no record of the client or such an incident. The “review” was likely intended as a personal attack against someone at the practice. We disputed the review with Yelp, saying we could furnish proof through the practice management software that the “client” was not associated with the practice. Soon after, we received this email from Yelp:

“We’re writing to let you know that we’ve evaluated Larry C.’s review. … After assessing the review carefully against our content guidelines, we agree that this review should be removed.

“We rely on community engagement to help keep Yelp useful. Thanks so much for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention!”

Yelp swiftly removed the review.

2. When dealing with a negative review on Google, you are allowed to flag the review and submit a support request, so long as you have a Google business account and have claimed your business entry. (Learn more at www.google.com/business.) For instructions on flagging negative Google reviews, visit http://bit.ly/2DdpOVF.

3. Facebook is a bit different regarding reviews because the platform is significantly more conversational. If someone leaves a review and you reply, the person can simply reply back, generating a dialogue. I recommend posting only once and including your professional contact information — see tip No. 3 above — so that you can take the conversation offline. This will prevent the situation from escalating.

Much like the advice regarding Mr. Crazy, if someone posts something about you or your practice in a local, private Facebook group, do not reply. It’s too easy for other people to jump in and for the conversation to veer closer to chaos.

When dealing with local Facebook groups as a forum for discussion, oftentimes loyal clients will come to the rescue. This happens more often than you might think, especially if the claims are outrageous or offensive. Take a look at this real-life example:

Like many things in life, the post shows that cooler heads will prevail. What is most important to keep in mind is that many minor issues can be smoothed over with dialogue. Intensive conflicts require more troubleshooting but can still be approached methodically based on the advice provided above.

If you keep best practices in mind, a negative review here or there is certain to be the exception and not the rule. And if a negative review does spring up, you’ll be well-equipped to handle it.

Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. Learn more at www.ericgarciafl.com.