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Reputation Management: 3 Steps for Handling Negative Reviews

a stressed woman with her hands on her face in front of a laptop with a cartoon background of a lot of things on her mind

Have you ever gotten a negative reviews that you just didn’t know how to handle? Was it hard to respond to because some of it was true but most of it wasn’t? Could you see how the client could come to the conclusion they did but they were still wrong? This really is one of the toughest areas of public relations to manage.

When a client complains publicly we have a natural instant response that runs through several emotions, shock, embarrassment, anger, and then we want to defend. Being open to understanding the complaint or the deeper need behind the complaint is very difficult. Let’s discuss some guidelines we can follow to help get us through a negative review without adding gasoline to the fire.

image of hands holding a tablet with 5 yellow stars

The main thing we need to remember about reviews is that their value lies with the next person reading it. It isn’t about the person leaving the review or really the business it is about, it is about what the next person that reads that review thinks about how you handled the review and whether or not they are willing to trust your business.

Step 1: Don’t Panic

Don’t panic when you receive a negative review. It is so tempting to jump in and immediately respond to the review and defend why your team did what they did or didn’t do in some cases. I am suggesting you don’t. Practice the pause. We need to do a little investigation before we jump on the keyboard to respond.

Step 2: Investigate the Claim

Just because it’s a negative review doesn’t mean they are wrong, it doesn’t mean they are right either. Grab the chart and review the case and compare it to what is being said in the review. Keep an open mind and try to find the source of the frustration behind the review.

“after waiting for 30 minutes for my appointment, the doctor rushed in and talked to me about my pet for 5 minutes then disappeared to the back. The next thing I know some assistant comes in with a piece of paper telling me the total cost for the visit which is outrageous for the amount of time they spent with my pet, and it’s ridiculous. I asked the girl questions and she didn’t know any of the answers. This place is a rip-off, I definitely don’t recommend them.”

The deeper frustration in this example is the lack of communication about what is going on in relation to their pet. We should communicate if appointments are running late, we should also communicate that they will get great care for their pet when it is their turn, we should also be aware not to outwardly show that we are hurried or behind. People will automatically feel slighted when they know they are paying for your time and you aren’t giving them any of it.

pad of paper, pen, coffee cup and corner of a laptop on a desk

Step 3: Crafting the Response

When drafting your response type into a document NOT the review itself. You don’t want any mistakes or accidental postings for the world to see. Here is a rule I try to remember when I am drafting responses to reviews “KISS (Keep It Simple Silly)”. You want to keep it short, empathetic but too the point. The more words you give them the more ammo they can use against you if the negative review escalates. The point of responding to a review is to deescalate a situation that could explode virally online. Keep in mind a few simple rules for responses:

  • Be empathetic to their emotion or frustration this doesn’t mean you agree with them.
    • “We are sorry you had a bad experience”
  • State what you try to do/only if it makes sense to do so
    • “we really try to communicate when we are running behind because of an emergency case and it looks like we didn’t hit the mark this time”
  • Offer to continue the conversation offline
    • “We would like to discuss this with you. Please call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx”

Again, simple, acknowledging their frustration, gently explaining what you try to do as a norm and then offering to take the conversation offline.

Here is a list of DON’Ts

  • Don’t respond when you are angry or upset
  • Don’t make it personal
  • Don’t provide private information about what the owner did or didn’t do for their pet
  • Don’t blame the owner
  • Don’t admit fault or accept responsibility if it isn’t yours to take
  • Don’t post your response before another set of eyes can read it for mistakes, grammar, and tone
  • Don’t have back and forth conversations publicly online! If a client posts another response to your response then that warrants a phone call to the client, it is now a conversation
smiley face in the center of blurry sad and angry faces
Focus on the Positive

Lastly, FOCUS on the positive:

There are far more good reviews and experiences we should be focusing on rather than letting one negative review or negative situation derail us from all the good we are doing every day. Handle the negative and move along.

Here at Dog Days Consulting, we offer reputation management help! If you would like to know more about what we do and how we can help you with your reviews please email me at Rhonda@dogdaysconsulting.com

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About Rhonda Bell, CVPM, CCFP

Certified Veterinary Practice Manager and a Certified Compassion Fatigue Professional with 15 years of veterinary hospital management experience. My passion lies with the small business owner specifically in veterinary medicine but not exclusively. I love coaching, teaching, developing and creating opportunities for veterinary practice success. I want to help overwhelmed stressed out practice owners, managers and veterinary teams make sense of the sticky areas of veterinary practice management.

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