How Should You Respond to Reviews?
"How do I respond to reviews?" is one of the most frequent questions practice managers have. Online reviews serve many purposes. For potential clients, it's a starting point in their research. For happy clients, it's a way to share their satisfaction. And for a handful of unhappy people, reviews are a weapon used to punish a business they feel has treated them poorly.
Veterinary practices have unique challenges with reviews. Unlike a restaurant or a hardware store, veterinarians deal with both long-term relationships and life-or-death issues on a daily basis. These high-stakes visits, compounded by guilt or financial strain, leave us more susceptible than most retail businesses to angry reviews.
People have high expectations of our profession. How you respond to reviews says at least as much as the review itself about your customer service. Clients expect to see compassion and empathy in every interaction we have, even when replying to a scathing review that may not reflect reality.
Bad reviews happen to everyone. When responding, the key thing to remember is that your audience is potential clients researching practices, not the original author of the review. Your purpose when you respond to reviews is not to resolve the conflict, but simply to demonstrate that your practice reacts to client concerns with compassion and transparency. That's good news! It makes life a lot easier for you.
Here are some dos and don'ts to help you craft a good review response.
Acknowledge the concern. "We are sorry to hear about your negative experience with Fluffy" is neutral, empathetic, and doesn't assign blame. Your only goal is to demonstrate that the practice does in fact care if someone has a bad experience. Ambivalence about poor customer service is one of the fastest ways to sink a company's reputation. Just ask the airline industry!
Describe how you normally do things. Instead of talking about what happened at that specific visit, describe how your practice does things in general. This is a small but very important change in phrasing that leaves you less vulnerable to a long back-and-forth.
Move it offline. Though you absolutely should talk to unhappy clients about their experience, you absolutely do not want to do it in front of an internet audience. Invite the reviewer to call you to discuss the concern, and leave it at that.
Keep it brief. Four to five sentences is ideal. If you're writing more than one paragraph, you're probably saying more than you need to.
Disparage the client. Readers understand that reviews can be emotional, and even unreasonable, but they expect the response to be courteous and professional. This is true no matter how frustrating or insulting the review may be.
Get into the specifics. Do not use the review response to correct the reviewer's reporting of what happened during the visit. Tempting though it might be, reviews are not the place to litigate the facts. All this does is open you up to a potential barrage of he-said-she-said arguments, creating a 20-response review that pops up first in search results.
Become defensive. Bad reviews often use hurtful words like "incompetent" or "price gouging." There's no need to respond by defending the doctor's credentials or the pricing structure. Potential clients consider the overall consensus of the reviews more than one outlier. Good reviews are a much more effective rebuttal than anything you could say.
Here's an example of how this scenario plays out:
The review: "Terrible place. Staff was rude and uncaring when we showed up for our appointment and tried to send us away. Misdiagnosed my dog and wanted to charge $500 just to touch the dog. Clearly they only care about money and are way too expensive."
What really happened: The client arrived an hour late for their appointment, and berated the staff when they asked the client to reschedule. The doctor fit them in, giving up her lunch to do so. The client declined all diagnostics and became abusive with the receptionist when told the practice did not offer payment plans.
Sample response: "Dear Ms. Jones, we are sorry to hear you were unhappy with your visit. We will always attempt to work with clients when they are unable to keep their scheduled appointment. It is our policy to discuss all recommended treatments as well as payment options to help our clients' pets get the care they need. We hope Fluffy is well. If you have any questions about the visit, we would be happy to discuss it with you at xxx-xxx-xxxx."
What About 3-Star Reviews?
Remember, an occasional one-star review is not going to ruin anyone if the reviews are positive overall. A much bigger concern is a string of three-star reviews. Why? These tend to come from people who aren't angry as much as they are disappointed or ambivalent. Read them carefully, especially if there are multiple reviews that all have the same complaint. It may indicate a real problem.
Mediocre reviews tend to focus on situations like staff running late, scheduling issues, or perceived rudeness. When deciding how to respond to a three-star review, investigate what happened with the staff. If a review makes a legitimate complaint, acknowledge it, thank the reviewer for bringing it to your attention, and say what you are doing to improve the experience in the future. They've taken the time to share important feedback; if clients see that you are taking this to heart and fixing it, they can often become your most loyal patrons.
No one likes dealing with reviews, but they don't have to be scary. Keep it simple, don't argue, and show clients you're paying attention. Good luck — and don't be intimidated!