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Well, it happened. A disgruntled veterinary client went online and left a terrible review for all the world to see. Now what? Do you respond? Do you ignore it? What if it escalates? How do you protect your online reputation? A negative online review can impact your business, but if you handle it correctly, even the meanest cyber blow can be softened. Associate and practice consultant Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, and online reputation management ninja Jason Khoo, marketing director with Search Business Group, are here to show you how:
If you get a bad online review, how do you respond to the first one?
Take it offline
Khoo’s advice: The most important part about responding is damage control. Clients can have negative feelings, but you don’t want the review to negatively influence other parties. The first concern is getting the review taken down. Immediately try to get ahold of the reviewer, either by phone or in person. Talk to them about the situation and you’ll have the best chance to have that reviewer take down the review themselves. You don’t want to get into the details of the case on a public forum—you want to divert the conversation privately and directly.
You don’t want to get into the details of the case on a public forum—you want to divert the conversation privately and directly.
Dr. DeWilde’s advice: Call the client first. If you can't identify them or they don't answer, then be short and sweet and say, "We're sorry to hear our service didn't meet your expectations. We want to know what happened and how we can make it better in the future. Please call our office manager Jane at 555-5555." Always apologize, be succinct, acknowledge you want to know more about the situation and improve, and then redirect that convo … offline.
What if the response leads to more criticism?
Dr. DeWilde’s advice: Personally, if I've made a good will attempt to 1) call the client and 2) address it initially online with the above statement, I do not engage. These people are jerks and are just looking for a fight.
These people are jerks and just looking for a fight.
Khoo’s advice: If the response leads to more criticism, don’t follow suit. Many of the platforms don’t allow someone to keep adding to a 1-star review, which means they can’t double up or keep adding reviews. Their review is often the only place they can speak. If they’re insistent on attacking the practice, let them. The more they go after you, the more out of control they look to other pet owners. Clients don’t want to listen to a reviewer with a vendetta against you. The reviewer looks biased, and their opinion is now void.
What if the complaints span multiple social media platforms?
Respond once everywhere
Dr. DeWilde’s advice: Make the same response on all channels, mostly to show other people who see the review that you're concerned, that you saw the review and that you tried to make it right. If it's going viral, you can always temporarily disable the review function on Facebook. Flag/report where indicated (they basically have to be cursing or threatening harm for it to violate terms of service), update your page moderation keywords, etc.
Your job is to make the reviewer look as out of control and emotional as possible.
Khoo’s advice: You may want to mention in your response, “As we spoke on Yelp, I want to remedy the situation and would love to set up a time to talk over everything … ” Keep it short and stern. Your job is to make the reviewer look as out of control and emotional as possible.
What if the complaints blossom into an extended online campaign against the practice owner, a veterinarian, a team member or the entire practice? Take action
Khoo’s advice: If it becomes a campaign, it probably means that the user is organizing multiple people to write reviews. That person really needs a hug, but your best bet is to contact the platform directly. Many have algorithms where they monitor how many reviews you’re receiving, and any period of time where the practice receives an uncharacteristically high amount of reviews is a red flag.
If it gets ugly, call in the pros.
Dr. DeWilde’s advice: You can't stand for that. Do the above and make the effort. If it's not resolved quickly, then ban the user, flag the review, and update page moderation words. If it gets ugly, call in the pros. AVMA members get a free half-hour consultation with Bernstein Crisis Management Firm. (You can log into the AVMA resource center to see it.)
Screenshot/print every problem post, email or interaction you see in case it goes so far as to be a legal or licensing board issue. Make sure everyone in the practice knows about the situation, so that any other threats or communication (for example, if they call or show up in person) can be directed to an appropriate point person—like, say, the practice manager who might be in charge of handling all this stuff as opposed to multiple receptionists getting involved.
Above all, protect your staff. If there’s ever any threat of physical harm, don't screw around with that. Call the police.
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