Like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie. 69% of customers look online for reviews of a business, and 72% say they trust online reviews. That means that potential clients are looking at reviews of your practice before they choose you.
With facts like that, it’s impossible to ignore or hide from online reviews. But it’s also nerve-wracking to put yourself out there. Having your business on Yelp or Google My Business allows clients to say nice things about you online, but it also creates the potential for people to be negative, something that every business fears.
Fortunately, if someone does say something negative about your practice, it’s not the end of the world. Negative reviews happen, and they can be dealt with in a manner that reduces the impact to your practice’s reputation. Let’s take a look at why customers post negative reviews in the first place, and what you can do to respond to negative reviews online.

Why Customers Post Negative Reviews

Often, it can feel like getting a bad review is hugely unfair. You’ve poured your heart and soul into the success of your practice and providing good customer service, and someone with sour grapes wants to destroy that because they were having a bad day. This unfair feeling can make lashing out in response very tempting, and it also makes being compassionate to the reviewer very difficult. Unfortunately, responding in anger can make your practice look bad and escalate the situation. So let’s take a deep breath, step back, and consider the reasons customers say they write bad reviews.
Thankfully, only 23% of customers say they post negative reviews out of vengeance. This is an important point to keep in mind when you’re responding to reviews. Customers aren’t complaining to take revenge on your practice. The complaint is not personal or intended to attack you, no matter how much it may feel that way.
The statistics also reveal that 70% of people who complain are hoping to receive a response. This indicates that customers are complaining online because they had a bad experience and they want you hear them and respond. They are offering you the opportunity to make things right. Unfortunately, only 38% actually receive a reply.  Now that you know that complainers are looking for a response, make sure your reviewers are in the 38% and give them the response they’re hoping for.
It’s also interesting to note that 90% of customers write reviews to help others make better buying decisions. Their reviews are intended to help inform or warn other customers about the quality of your practice. This suggests that if you can rectify or improve their experience, they might adjust their review to reflect the helpfulness of your practice. After all, if you can prove you can actually provide a great experience, that’s information they will also want to pass on as helpful to other customers.

Negative Reviews Vs. Cyberbullying

Before we dive into dealing with negative reviews, it’s necessary to clarify one thing. There’s a difference between someone who is reviewing your business because they had a bad experience, and someone who is attacking your practice. The recommendations below apply primarily to people who had a bad experience at your practice and are reaching out online to warn other customers or to get a response from your practice.
If the review is abusive, harassing, or blatantly false (e.g., they never visited your practice), then take a look at our blog post on cyberbullying for more information on what to do. If someone is bullying your practice, the advice below will be less effective, because your attackers are not looking for an apology or a solution to a bad experience.

Dealing with Negative Reviews

1. Be professional and courteous in your response.

First, never be defensive when responding to a post. Sarcastic, negative replies will reflect badly on your business, and even an earnest attempt to excuse the situation could make your practice look worse. If the client is claiming blatantly false information about your practice, you can attempt to set the record straight, but make sure to do so in a manner that is courteous and acknowledges that the customer’s experience was unpleasant.
A good response includes a few things. First, your response should have an apology for the customer’s experience. No matter how you feel the situation actually unfolded, the customer had an unfortunate experience, and an apology is a good way to soothe upset feelings. Secondly, add a positive statement about your practice to negate the negative statements made by the reviewer. For example, if the reviewer complained that they had a negative customer service experience, say something like “ABC’s Animal Hospital aims to provide an excellent experience for every client and patient that comes through our door. Unfortunately, it appears that we have failed to live up to this standard during your visit.” This statement assures readers and the client that their experience was not the norm, and that your practice is committed to excellent service. Finally, thank the client for their feedback and ask to speak with them further offline.

2. Move the conversation offline.

When reaching out to reviewers, it’s a good idea to acknowledge their unhappiness, apologize that they had a bad experience, and then indicate that you are open to receiving feedback. However, we recommend taking the feedback conversation offline by requesting the opportunity to contact them.  Allowing the customer to provide their feedback over a public forum could make your practice look even worse. Having the client speak to you offline allows them to air their grievances and feel heard without displaying their problems to the entire Internet.

3. Get ahead of it.

As we said above, 70% of online complainers are hoping to receive a response to their negative review. This means that you can avoid some bad reviews simply by reaching the client to discuss and rectify their experience before they have the chance to share their irritation with the Internet.
The problem is, 96% of clients who have a bad experience won’t tell you about it. So how can you identify and reach out to these closet complainers before they turn their anger online? The answer is client satisfaction surveys. Sending out a survey to every client who walks through your door is a great way not only to determine who had a bad experience, but also to receive feedback on ways to improve the overall experience for all of your clients and to solicit some awesome testimonials.

4. Drown it out in a sea of good reviews

Ultimately, you can’t prevent everyone from saying bad things. Some people are never going to be happy. Fortunately, your practice can prepare for negative reviews by soliciting a lot of good ones. If you have taken proactive measures to gather several good reviews, any bad reviews you receive will get lost in a sea of positivity.
Wondering how to encourage clients to write good reviews? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Respond to all your reviews. People love to receive a response for their feedback, so make sure you’re thank-you to the good ones in addition to replying to the bad ones. Responses will encourage others to chime in as well.
  • Let people know that your practice is on review sites by adding social sharing buttons for Yelp and Google My Business to your practice website.
  • Make reviewing your practice as easy as possible and remind people to do it. If they have to go home, sit in front of their computer, find a review site, and write one out, the chances of them actually following through on those actions are significantly decreased. By proactively asking for reviews in follow-up emails and linking clients directly to review sites, you can encourage them to write a review for your practice while their visit is still fresh on their mind.

Receiving bad reviews is never a fun experience, but it is one your practice can survive. Understand what causes customers to write reviews in the first place to avoid those pesky bad reviews, and respond with grace and professionalism to keep your practice’s reputation squeaky clean.

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