Online reviews matter to practices because reviews strongly influence customer decisions, whether those decisions are about looking for a new veterinarian or shopping for electronics on Amazon. 

  • People read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling they can trust a local business (BrightLocal). 
  • Given two products with similar ratings, customers are more likely to buy the product with more reviews (Psychological Science). 

Given such facts, it’s hard to ignore online reviews without ignoring what can be a major practice asset. Yet it can be nerve-wracking to put yourself out there. Having your business on Yelp or Google My Business certainly allows people to say nice things about your practice, but it also creates the potential for people to say negative things. 

Fortunately, it’s not the end of the world if someone does say something negative about your practice, and they can be dealt with in a manner that reduces the impact to your practice reputation. 


Resist the Urge to Lash Out


Getting a bad review can feel hugely unfair. You’re poured your heart and soul into good customer service and the success of your practice. Then someone pours a bowl of sour grapes over it all. 

It can be tempting to lash out in response. Yet responding in anger only tends to make your practice look bad and escalate the situation. So, take a deep breath if you experience such a moment. Step back and consider why customers write bad reviews. 


Why Customers Post Negative Reviews


Personal Unhappiness

According to research by TNS NIPO, 30% of people post online to vent negative feelingswhich may or may not have anything to do with your practice. While a negative review can certainly feel personal, people often post negative reviews when they don’t feel good about their own lives and simply need to criticize others to feel good about themselves—and any target will do.  

Example: The Atlantic Ocean has a 3.9 rating on Google Reviews. A few of the negative criticisms: 

  • “It is way too easy to drown here, definitely not safe for kids.” 
  • “A little too cold.” 
  • “Would recommend the [Arctic Ocean] for much better tasting water.” 

So, keep this in mind when responding to reviews. Complaints are often not personal or intended as specific attacks against your practice, no matter how much they may feel that way. 

Bear in mind, there’s a difference between someone venting negative feelings connected to an experience at your practice and cyberbullying (someone maliciously attacking your practice). If a review is abusive, harassing, or blatantly false (e.g. a review from someone who’s never visited your practice), read our blog on cyberbullying for more information on what to do. If someone is bullying your practice, the advice in this blog will be less effective, since your attackers are not looking for an apology or solution to a situation. 


Hoping to Get a Response

Research shows that 70% of people who complain or post negative reviews online are hoping to get a response. In other words, they are offering you the opportunity to make things right. But only 38% of complaints actually get a response, which (unfortunately for practices) provides people with one more thing to complain about. To avoid this, provide reviewers with the response they’re hoping for. 

Now that you understand a bit more about why people post negative online reviews, here are four things to keep in mind when addressing them. 


Dealing With Negative Reviews


1. Be professional and courteous in your response. 

Sarcastic, defensive, and negative replies reflect badly on your practice. Even an earnest attempt to excuse the situation can make your practice look bad. If the reviewer is claiming blatantly false information, you can 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 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 experience, say something like, “ABC Animal Hospital aims to provide an excellent experience for every client and patient that comes through our door. Unfortunately, it appears that we 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 offer 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 and apologize for the bad experience they had before indicating that you’re open to receiving feedback. However, we recommend taking the feedback conversation offline by requesting the opportunity to contact them. 

Allowing the customer to provide feedback over a public forum could make your practice look even worse. Having the client speak to you offline by phone or email allows them to air their grievances and feel heard without them communicating their issues to a wide public audience through the internet. 


3. Get ahead of it.

As we mentioned previously, 70% of people who complain or post negative reviews online are hoping to get a response. This means that you can avoid some bad reviews by simply reaching the client to discuss and rectify their experience before they have the chance to share their irritation online. 

The challenge is, 96% of customers who have a bad experience with a business won’t tell the business about it. So, how can you identify and reach out to the closet complainers before they release their irritation to the internet? 

The answer is client satisfaction surveys. Sending surveys to clients is a great way not only to determine who had a bad experience but also to receive feedback on ways to improve the overall client experience. Satisfaction surveys also afford you the opportunity to collect testimonials. 

You can also use Net Promoter Score. As a proven and simple-to-use client survey tool that shows you what’s working in client engagement and what’s not, Net Promoter Score provides key metrics that empower your practice to develop actionable plans to increase engagement, boost appointments and improve profitability. 


4. Drown out the bad reviews in a sea of good reviews.

Ultimately, you can’t prevent everyone from saying bad things. Some people are never going to be happy. But your practice can prepare for negative reviews by soliciting a lot of good ones. When you take proactive measures to gather good reviews, any bad reviews that you receive will get lost in a sea of positivity. 

Here are a few suggestions for encouraging clients to write good reviews: 

  • Respond to all your reviews. People love to receive a response to their feedback. So, make sure you’re thanking the people who provide good feedback in addition to replying to anyone who posts a bad review. Responses will encourage others to chime in. 
  • 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 it as easy as possible for people to review your practice and remind them to do it. If someone must go home, sit in front of a computer, find a review site, and write one out, the chances of them following through on those actions are significantly decreased. By proactively asking people for reviews in follow-up emails and linking clients directly to review sites, you encourage them to write a review for your practice while their visit is still fresh in their mind. 

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


On the flip side, with negative reviews also comes a few benefits for your practice. Just read our previous blog The Benefits of Negative Reviews and find out how negative reviews can build customer trust and more.