by Kristin Singhasemanon
First published in the Nugget by the Sacramento District Dental Society November 2012
As a dentist, you sometimes have no choice but to make your patients uncomfortable. You poke and prod in their mouths, often giving shots, drilling, maybe cutting. They may leave your office feeling numb, sore and unable to eat.
The nature of the job makes some dentists feel uncomfortable about allowing, let alone encouraging, their patients to share their stories online, for the whole world to see.
Like it or not, online reviews are here to stay. Whether you run a restaurant, an automotive repair shop, or a dental practice, your business is fair game. A patient can snap a picture of his swollen jaw as he leaves your office, then post it immediately to Facebook with a note of how much pain he’s in. But he can also come back and rave about how great it was that the doctor called that night to make sure he was doing alright. And again in the morning. And then took action right away when he had a reaction to his medication.
Rather than shy away and hope for the best, embrace the world of immediate public feedback as an opportunity to bring new patients to your practice.
If you worry about the effect of negative reviews, positive reviews can be your best defense. Your satisfied patients far outnumber those who are discontent. You want your online reviews to portray that story. When people read your reviews, they are mentally evaluating the reviewers as much as they are the reviewee. Is this someone who’s opinion I trust? Are their claims too outrageous to be true? Are they upset about something that’s important to me?
When one bad review shows up after ten or twenty good ones, readers may be skeptical of the patient’s story. If you only have one or two reviews, they’re not sure who to believe.
Sooner or later you are likely to be faced with negative online feedback. So how do you handle it?
You can use the same principles you would if you were facing the patient in your own office, except your actions are on public display. If you handle it well, you can turn your patient, and the readers, into raving fans. If you handle it poorly, you may do more damage than the feedback itself.
Here are six ways you might consider handling online criticism:
1. Resolve the Issue Directly with the Patient
If you are able to identify the patient, you may be able to contact them directly to resolve the issue, then ask them to remove or at least update their review. Most review sites and social media platforms will let contributors remove their own post if they are willing to do so, but don’t ask them to take down the review until you have addressed their concerns first.
2. Respond Publicly to the Patient
Most platforms let you leave a response, and this is often the best course of action. It allows you to show off your exceptional customer service skills and to display a bit of class. According to Yelp, “Reviewers are usually thrilled to get a well-meaning response.”
First, make sure you acknowledge the patient’s concerns. Step back, calm down, and ask yourself if there was something you or your staff really could have done better. Admitting this publicly shows you are willing to accept and address mistakes. Think in terms of potential patients, and make them feel secure they won’t face the same problem. Say what you have done and what you are still willing to do to resolve the issue. Apologize if it’s appropriate.
You can encourage the patient to follow up with you privately (by asking them to email, call or message you), but be careful not to look like you’re just trying to hide the conversation from the public. If you feel the complaint is invalid, you can explain your side of the story, but be careful not to come across as defensive or confrontational. Keeping your response short and sweet without too many details is generally a good rule of thumb.
3. Delete the Post
On most platforms, only the author can delete a post. However, if a patient posts on your business Facebook Page or comments on your blog, you do have the ability to hide or delete it. Be careful with this though, because some people will have already seen the negative comment. They will wonder what you’re trying to hide, and suspicious minds have a way of making things seem worse than they actually are. Furthermore, the original author will likely be angered by your actions, and may come back to let everyone know you deleted their post, and even spread out to other platforms where you don’t have so much control. (NOTE: This applies to feedback from legitimate patients, not spam. It is perfectly acceptable to delete and report any spam posted on your Facebook Page or blog.)
When you respond publicly and treat social media as a customer service platform, you will have the opportunity to shine, to turn a bad story into a good one. Other Facebook fans or Twitter followers will be able to comment as well, and you may find them coming to your defense. Sometimes even complete strangers will repost your comment to compliment you on how you handled the situation.
If there is an actual error with the review, for instance it was intended for a different doctor, you should follow up with the platform it is posted on. While most platforms won’t delete a review just because you don’t agree with it, you should be able to get errors resolved. This may take some time, however, so it’s still a good idea to leave a polite response, showing empathy for the person’s bad experience, but explaining you aren’t the doctor they saw.
4. Ignore the Post
While some consultants recommend this, ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.
Some platforms only allow for one response from each side, while others may allow for an on-going conversation back and forth. Platforms with open community discussion such as Facebook, Twitter, forums or blogs pose the greatest risk, and the greatest opportunity. If you don’t respond where other people can, readers may publicly start to validate the patient’s complaints. Others may feel empowered to step up with negative experiences of their own that they had previously kept to themselves. The discussion could grow and spread to other platforms, virtually “taking on legs of its own.” On the other hand, your gracious response will help readers better understand the situation, and could help rally your supporters to stand up for you as well. Understand the platform you’re working with, as this may affect your decision as to how to respond.
If you feel there is really nothing you can say to make the situation better, or that any response on your part will further enrage the unhappy patient, you may be tempted to leave the comment alone. Usually a simple, polite response is better than nothing at all.
Think about this in a real-life context. If a patient comes to the front desk and starts complaining, do you and your staff duck out the back door, leaving her to rant at an empty chair, possibly with patients in the waiting room listening? Of course not.
Try to simulate your real-life response online. You don’t want to get defensive and start a loud debate, but even if you were to sit quietly and listen to her concerns, thank her for her patronage, then let her walk out the door, that is still a response. You can do the same thing online. Acknowledge that you’ve heard them. Thank them for being your patient, and kindly say good-bye. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
5. Spotlight the Post
Some companies have taken an extreme approach to negative feedback and found ways to turn it into positive marketing. If you went above and beyond to resolve a patient’s concern, you may want to show that off. If you corrected something in your office in response to negative feedback, again, showcasing your responsiveness can be a plus. You could publicly thank the patient for pointing out your shortcomings and helping you to improve your practice. On the other hand, some comments lend themselves to lightening the mood with a bit of humor (as long as it’s not offensive).
6. Get More Positive Reviews
Following a negative review, the fastest way to get it pushed down the page, and out of site, is to get more reviews. Put a button on your website linking to the review site. Hand out a card with a scanable QR code that takes your patients to the review page right on their smartphones. Hold a contest where you offer awards for patients who write reviews for you online. Provide an iPad in your waiting room where the homepage has links directly to the review submission page.
While you can encourage your patients to write reviews, you still want them to be legitimate. Don’t have your family members write a bunch of reviews. Don’t hire anyone to write you a positive review. Don’t post fake reviews under made-up names. Aside from the obvious point that it’s unethical, you may even get caught. Now that would be legitimate negative feedback!