Try as we might, sometimes it happens—someone posts a negative review, or criticizes your practice on social media, and the next thing you know, your practice takes a hit to its online reputation.
It may not seem like a big deal, but depending on the scale, it could be tricky to tackle the problem. After all, your reputation is how you appear to your clients, both current and potential—and as with many other aspects of life, it’s much easier to break something than it is to fix it again.
As a veterinarian, you know the importance of preventive care, as well as the importance of reactive care just in case something goes wrong. Your preventive care for your online reputation includes monitoring your reviews and social media, and handling concerns as they come up—but do you know what to do when this preventive care doesn’t work?

First, let’s look at why hits to online reputations happen.

Unfortunately, this answer isn’t quite cut-and-dry, but one of the most common reasons is bad exposure online or on social media. It could be an unhappy customer who wanted to sensationalize a perceived issue, a disgruntled former employee trying to stir the pot, or even a poorly timed social media post that got a lot of attention.
Yes, everyone has the right to express themselves when these things happen—and your practice also has the right to open up a conversation about it. Let’s have a look at what you can do:

Step 1: Don’t panic.

The thing about hits to your online reputation is that they can be a great opportunity to showcase your practice’s customer service. Stop and think: What was said? How could you potentially prevent this issue from coming up again?
For example, let’s say the issue is someone who had to wait too long in the waiting room for their appointment, and took to social media to compose a long-winded complaint.
First, have a look at your check-ins that day. How long were people waiting on average? Did this person wait longer than usual? Were they late for their appointment, and had to wait for the next slot? These are all important questions to ask.
Tip: Remember to answer all of these questions objectively. Don’t pre-emptively assume it was anyone’s fault.

Step 2: Plan your response.

Never, ever answer damaging posts or comments about your practice in the heat of the moment. Think of your online reputation as a game of chess; your opponent has made their move, and now it’s your turn to figure out what you’re going to do.
It might help to analyze the situation a little. Think:
Who: Do you know who this person was? Was it a client of yours? Was it a one-time customer? Was it a competitor?
Why: There may be situations where you’ll know why a customer chose to complain online. If this is the case, make sure you have an airtight way to respond to it. After all, if you have insider knowledge like that, you might as well use it!
What: What were they saying about your practice? Look carefully through the complaint, and make sure you know everything they’re saying—and come up with a possible solution or response for every point.
How: How did they phrase everything? Were there overly aggressive or accusatory terms, or was it level-headed? This will give you an idea of whether you need to tread lightly or speak on the same level.
Where: Where was the complaint posted? If it’s on social media or another public forum, you may be able to address the complainant directly (or request that they contact you directly). If it’s on a third-party site like Yelp, you may need to address the issue through that site.

Related Reading: The Problems with Yelp (and What to Do about Them)

Step 3: Make your move.

Once you know how you want to handle the situation, it’s time to take action. Reach out to the complainant with a personalized message, whether you’ve chosen to use an email, a private message on social media, or another format.
Be sure to stay diplomatic, whatever else comes your way. Address any criticisms; don’t shy away from it, and don’t take it personally. There will always be differing opinions, and it’s more constructive to ask your critics if there’s something they think you could be doing instead. If they’re being unreasonable, however, it’s time to end the conversation.

What if it’s bigger than just one complainant?

There may be cases where, for whatever reason, more than one person is complaining of the same issue at a veterinary practice. It could be a former employee who caused some damage to the practice’s reputation, or even a drug recall that affected several pet owners.
In these events, you may wish to consider doing a public address, something like a post on your website that you email out the link for. It may also be a good idea depending on the severity of the issue to discuss it with a local news source if they bring it up—but be very, very careful. Make sure it’s a source you trust, and that you get to read over (and edit) anything before it gets published.

A fine example of what not to do when consulting with news sources.

It’s also important in a situation where your online reputation has taken a hit to learn from what happened. It may not have been a mistake made by anyone on your team, but it’s still worth learning from what happened! You may find a new way to handle your online presence, or even a new process to introduce to your practice! So if you want to put your practice’s best paw forward, remember to monitor your channels, be transparent with your pet owners, and be ready to handle anything—even a hit to your online reputation—gracefully and effectively. 

Need a hand keeping an eye on your practice’s online reputation? WebDVM websites come with VSmart Alert to help you see what pet owners are saying about your practice.

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