How to Respond to Negative Online Reviews

First Thing’s First: Should You Respond?

A recent Twitter poll estimated that roughly 70% of online reviews never receive any response at all. Which begs the question: Should you answer a negative review? Answer: YES, most of the time. An unanswered negative review for your business has the possibility to become an ugly scar on the face of your business. But a negative review, answered in the proper way, has the potential to become a positive experience and example for future patients. The exception? Obvious personal attacks or vulgar comments do not justify a response. Cooler heads will prevail – Your audience is smart enough to see through a ranting reviewer who is just here to sling mud. There’s no need to respond to such reviews. But in the case of a legitimate negative review, you should ALWAYS respond. And remember, your answer isn’t necessarily for the benefit of the person you are answering, but for all those potential customers who will read that review and your subsequent answer. That’s the audience you’re writing for and who are you seeking to impress. Follow these simple guidelines to answering negative online reviews, and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy online reputation:

Think Before You Type, But Not Too Long:

It’s important not to lash out in reaction to a bad review. This may seem obvious, but it’s only human nature to want to snap back to a negative comment. Our instinct is to set the record straight as soon as possible, and while responding in a timely manner is important, it’s more important to respond in a measured and professional tone. A good rule of thumb is to answer any negative reviews within 24 hours. And here’s where it’s a good idea to use some kind of monitoring service. When you opt in for notifications about new reviews, you’ll know right away when any negative feedback is posted. Then you can take the necessary time to process what you’ve read before writing an appropriate response.

Read Like a Human Being, not a PR Robot:

Online communities are slightly different from traditional PR situations. Online community members are looking for genuine human interaction, not robotic perfection. A canned response or “too-perfect” answer is going to come off as less than genuine. Maintain positivity in your response, and reinforce your desire to help the customer resolve their issue, but remember to maintain a genuine human tone in all your answers. If a mistake was made, it is more important to resolve the problem now than to insist on being “correct.”
Members of online communities respond best to content producers they feel they can relate to as a trusted friend or insider, rather than “talking heads” or traditional marketers. For this reason, it’s best to avoid such tactics. If a mistake was made, be sure to apologize, and emphasize your desire to make things right. Encourage the reviewer to call you directly so the situation can be resolved, and let them know their overall satisfaction is more important to you than a positive review. This sincerity will go a long way, and hopefully the customer will be impressed enough with your reaction that they will want to amend their review anyway. But if not, your publicly posted response will serve as a positive note for any other customers who happen to read the review. That sincerity comes through, and more times than not a potential new customer will be impressed enough with such a reply that they will overlook the negative review as a result. Your willingness to apologize and make things right goes a long way toward impressing a potential customer.

Remember Who Your Audience Is:

Your replies to negative reviewers aren’t really for the reviewer themselves. The odds are, the person who left that negative review will never even see your reply. More than likely, they left their review and moved on. They’re gone. Your reply is really for the next customer to come along, who may see that negative review and see your response to it. Cooler heads will prevail, and the right response to a negative review could turn a potential negative against your business into a positive. That potential new customer is looking to see how you respond to criticism. Respond in the right way, and you could turn that negative into a positive!

Monitor Your Reputation and Follow Up if Necessary:

If you’ve ever had to deal with a negative review, you probably already know that being ready for the next one is the best defense. Stay abreast of any follow ups to the original review, and watch out for any new reviews on all your social media channels and review sites. It’s advisable to use a monitoring tool, like Helfguard, to keep track of any incoming reviews or discussions of your brand or practice at various reviews sites online. This way, you know the moment a new review has been posted.

Be Proactive in Encouraging Positive Reviews:

The best ammunition against a negative review is a pile of positive reviews to cancel it out. Unfortunately, pushing customers to give positive reviews is generally frowned upon and considered poor practice. So, what can you do to let patients know about your online presence and encourage them to leave feedback about their (hopefully positive) experiences? The best way is simply to alert them to your online presence by letting them know where to find you. This could be in the form of something as simple as a “We’re on Yelp!” sign at the check in desk, a note at the bottom of follow up emails, or a button on your website. By going public about your desire to get more patient feedback, you let the patient know you care about their outcome. Showing you care and want their honest review goes a long way to reinforcing your reputation as a patient driven practice. We hope you found this guide to negative online reviews helpful. By following these tried and true methods to managing online reviews, you can take your review sites from embarrassing to impressive in no time.

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