By Kathy Roy Gaughran
Senior Marketing Strategist
Seemingly overnight the Internet created dozens of directory, listing, review and rating sites. In a digital flash, negative online reviews—or outright bad reviews—can soil the fabric of years of good work and positive impressions.
The high altitude overview reveals that the vast majority of online reviews are positive. By and large, doctors provide their services skillfully and professionally. And the positive ratings and reviews contribute to an enviable record and reputation.
Further, online reviews and reputation guide the purchase decisions of others. In the retail and small-business world, about 90 percent of consumers are influenced by positive online reviews. Negative reviews, on the other hand, can point prospects toward the competition.
Bad reviews, stinkers, sinkers, and trolls…
For the most part, hospitals, healthcare and medical providers have—so far—avoided the unfair and untrue slings-and-arrows that abound in politics and politicians, major corporate brands, or the entertainment world, for example. For some people, the influence of the Internet has become a launch point for mean-spirited or malicious comments.
So-called “trolls” actively post provocative, inflammatory or negative information—which may not be true or accurate—for the purpose of disruption or reflecting poorly on the individual or institutional reputation. Similarly, some users concoct “fake news” to present misleading, untrue or negative influence.
In the long term, most comments are complimentary or friendly. But when you need them, here are some useful action steps you can take with negative online reviews:
- Get out in front; be proactive. First, have an active system to claim all listings and to monitor notes and entries. The best course is to consistently deliver an excellent patient experience, and actively inspire and encourage positive comments. But if an inevitable “bad review” comes along, consider it objectively and determine what may have caused it. This could be a legitimate signal of a problem that needs attention or correction. Take action quickly when and where needed.
- Silence is not a good option. Say something as soon as possible, and keep it positive. A non-response implies volumes, and none of it is good. The originator and the general public take silence as ignoring an issue or that you don’t know or don’t care. Provide a caring note of concern, even if it says that you are “sorry for the inconvenience and that you’re looking into the matter immediately.” Then follow-up with an action answer promptly.
- Embrace the issue and say sorry. Often, negative reviews and comments begin with hurt feelings. Regardless of their stated complaint, their upset often originates when they feel they have been ignored, slighted, or sense an attitude of indifference. Of course, there may be more to the story, but acknowledging their feelings and simply allowing the individual to be heard is a major plus in many situations. A study of YELP issues shows about one-third of negative reviews can flip to positive simply by responding and letting the customer be heard.
- Offer two or more positive solutions. There are times when the customer may not “always be right.” Nevertheless, it’s useful to suggest multiple ways to resolve their concern, remove a point of contention or, generally, soothe their ruffled feathers. Often, the most troubling of concerns have a relatively simple solution and/or quick resolution. Take the high road and save the day.
- Watch what you say and how you say it. There may be a strong temptation to answer a critical comment with a heated reply. Avoid fueling the fire; don’t sound upset or defensive. Don’t be personal; be personable, positive, professional and polite. State the facts without blame or pointing fingers. Use natural-language comments; avoid repetitious or template posts.
- Make it a private conversation. Some issues are too difficult, delicate or complicated to resolve online or via short text or email comments. When appropriate, offer to discuss and resolve the problem offline and directly. People appreciate the attention (and sometimes the confidentiality) by offering to work out the details in a private format. And when you resolve an issue offline, invite a positive–but public comment–to put it to rest.
- Watch out for a troll, stinker or fake review. It would be rare in healthcare, but don’t engage a person who simply wants to complain constantly…they’re in it for the fight, not for a resolution. It would be tempting to jump into the fray, but don’t allow things to escalate. Let’s hope you never meet someone from “the fight club.” There are some issues that can’t be won. Take the calm and positive high road, offer to resolve the issue and invite an off-line conversation.
- Routinely encourage online reviews and patient comments. The primary reason that patients don’t offer online reviews is that they were not asked. Often, it’s also helpful to provide instructions about where and how to access the doctor rating or review sites that are helpful.
- Do you feel like filing a lawsuit? There are times when an online comment or bad review can be extremely aggravating and way off base. We can’t provide legal advice here, but a “doctor-sues-patient-for-bad-review” usually requires time and resources, and it brings a lot more negative attention. Carefully consider your other options.
- Contact the review site. As a last resort, reach out to the actual review or rating site and determine their policy about removing a negative review. These websites often publish their policy, but they tend to be difficult to reach and difficult to take action.
Actively manage negative reviews and your reputation…
Few things are more important to a healthcare provider or a hospital than protecting and managing the individual or institutional reputation. We’re long past the days when “reputation” was the collective impressions of a handful of professional colleagues.
Hospitals, doctors and medical providers cannot leave their online reputation to chance…even when they believe they are doing a great job with patients. Have and use a proactive system to monitor patient comments, reviews and ratings. Respond to negative comments quickly—and demonstrate that you care about patients and their concerns.