Negative reviews can cause great harm to dentists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, and other health clinics. How you respond to negative online google or facebook reviews can therefore have enormous long term effects – both for good or for ill.
Consider the harm that can come from a bad patient online review getting latched onto by the media. For instance, imagine a patient filming themselves on a rant against all the injustices in the world, with your clinic sitting at the top of it all.
Bad clinic reviews from just a handful of patients can drive away new patients. They can affect your existing patients too. Some will defend you; others may start to question if they should keep coming to your clinic.
Plus, anyone leaving a bad review is even more likely to be telling people they know to avoid your clinic. That bad review is just the tip of the iceberg. This negative word of mouth advertising has just as much power as the positive word of mouth endorsements you want.
Negative patient reviews also can affect your staff. Sometimes your team is the focus of the angry patient’s wrath. Most of the time they have to bear the brunt of it even though none of it is their fault. This can depress morale and increase stress, negatively affecting your clinic’s culture.
In this post, you will learn the following my 7 step process on how to respond to negative patient reviews so they change their mind and give you a positive one.
7 Step Response to Negative Patient Reviews
To address a negative review of your clinic, or even better – to respond to it before they reach the point of writing or filming one – use this 7-step response plan:
1. Call the Patient - Do Not Email
Email is not the right way to communicate when someone is angry or emotionally charged. It’s just too hard to read someone’s tone or intent in how they might say things. Plus, email removes the relational component of conflict resolution, and makes it one-sided. Each person can write whatever they want without actually responding to the other person’s words.
So call them. Do not use email when responding to a bad patient review.
2. Do Not Try to Resolve the Complaint in One Call
To be clear on this, you may well end up resolving the situation in one call. But this should not be your goal. If the patient who is upset feels like you’re trying to get this done as fast as possible, they will not take your overtures and sympathies as genuine. They will not trust you, and will feel devalued and unheard.
Go into the call with the intention to do whatever it takes to find a solution. In other words, go in planning to work though the remaining steps on this list.
3. Apologize for the "situation"and Let Them Vent
You don't want to spend the phone call trying to justify and debate why you are right because they will just get defensive. Your goal is to end this complaint and not trying to win the conversation.
Imagine what this patient will say to their doctor about your clinic? So you need to drop your ego and trying to argue why you are right.
I like to start off with apologizing for the "situation" or what they experienced.
Say things like, “I'm sorry you had to experience this..." and “I totally get why you would be upset and if I was in your situation, I would be too”
Afterwards, you need to let them vent and talk. This is the most important part.
Anger needs to come out somehow. Bottled up anger is what leads people to write bad reviews. But if they feel heard, their anger will be appeased most of the time. So let them talk. And while they vent, you should be doing step 4.
“Listening” doesn’t mean your ear is to the phone, but your hands and brain aren't doing something else like checking email or playing on your phone.
Listen actively. Your goal here is to really understand them. Do don’t argue about the details. Don’t defend yourself or your team yet. That may come later, but not here. On this first call, the goal is to give the patient room so that they feel heard and understood. Don’t take anything they say personally. And don’t blame them. Blaming never leads to positive outcomes. That’s a lesson we’ve learned the hard way.
Realize that most people who are angry about something enough to leave a bad review of a physiotherapy clinic or a dentist are not really angry only about the dentist. There are almost always other things in their life that they haven’t been able to resolve, and the stress from those challenges reaches a tipping point when your clinic fails to validate their parking.
5. Acknowledge Their Emotions
Listening enables you to be sincere on this very critical fifth step in responding to a negative review from an angry patient. You must find a way to empathize with them and validate their emotions.
This means you really do understand why whatever happened has made them so angry or disappointed. In their venting phase, they may very well reveal some of the other things going on in their life...
- a kid in the hospital
- a stressed marriage
- a struggling business
As you hear this stuff spill out of them, acknowledge it. That’s real pain. Real frustration. Put yourself in their shoes. If you were going through all that, how would you handle it?
Say things like, “Wow. That sounds like an unbelievable situation. I'm sorry you are experiencing this" or, “I wish we could have helped reduce your stress rather than add to it.”
6. Ask What You Can Do for Them
Be aware here that you may not be able to do what they want. But you can work something out at this point because you have validated their emotions and hopefully regained some rapport. If they now believe that “we’re in this together,” then you’ve succeeded, and the rest is just details.
Ask them: "How can we make this right?"
8. Send them a RAK
A RAK is a random act of kindness. Yes you can always refund their money. My preference is to do something special that gives them an "experience". Like writing them a card or getting them flowers or chocolate. Or even better, offer them a free massage appointment.
And if you are lucky, that patient may even go back and remove the negative online review on google.
And to be clear, you’re not doing this because you did something wrong. You’re doing it to repair the relationship and to show that you really do understand the inconvenience caused by the situation.
More Insights into Responding to Bad Patient Reviews
What if They Don't Answer?
In step 1, what happens if you call but get a voicemail?
By all means – leave a message. Do not just hang up. In that message, you can quickly acknowledge that you know something went wrong and that you want to address their experience and the negative review that it may have led to.
Most importantly, give them a time – preferably the next day because you want to address this quickly – that you will call them to discuss the situation. Then put that time on your schedule, and follow through with it. You might also ask them to call or email you if that time doesn’t work.
But what you don’t want is to have them call you at some random time. Your mind might be working on something and you will not be in the right headspace to have this conversation. You need to call them when you will be able to completely focus on the call, without distraction.
Defend Your Team, When Appropriate
Only after you believe you have restored the relationship somewhere in step 5 or 6 should you do this. But if the angry patient verbally abused your team, you may want to address that. Even though they had a right to be angry, the patient did not have the right to speak to your team that way.
Most of the time, your team had nothing to do with whatever the patient is upset about, and they do not deserve to be spoken to in a rude or threatening manner. Your team will appreciate you standing up for them.
This could also be an opportunity to provide your team with feedback. Check out this swipe post for some helpful tips on how to give feedback to your staff without making it awkward:
Anger is Situation-Agnostic
Anger does not rise or fall in proportion with the severity of the situation. Be aware of this. Someone can be just as angry about being skipped in line as they can about being crashed into by another car. Again, when anger boils over it is usually because of other things also going on in the person’s life.
Be aware of this so you don’t minimize someone’s anger over what might seem like a trivial thing.
Bonus to Step 6: Offer to Partner with the Angry Patient
Very often, problems that lead to negative reviews from patients relate to communication. Tell the patient you are using this situation to update and improve your communication and customer service processes and that you are creating an action plan to make sure it gets done.
But don’t stop there.
Offer to involve them. Offer to show them the changes you put in place. Most won’t want to spend the time. But we have seen some formerly ‘toxic’ patients become invaluable advisors to help improve service.
That kind of achievement can lead the same patient who wrote a bad review to go write a glowing review later. And that will show all future patients and prospects your commitment to excellence, or whatever culture you’re trying to build.
The Best Way to Evaluate Your Front Desk’s Phone Performance
In some cases, it is possible that someone on your front desk really did mess up, and the angry patient has a legitimate grievance. But how can you really know what kind of experience your patients are getting when they talk to your team on the phone?
The best way is to do a Mystery Caller Test. CallHero offers free mystery caller tests that you can sign up for right now. You’ll get a report with analysis, suggestions for improvement, and much more. And it’s all free!
1. How Should My Clinic Respond to a Bad Review on Google?
You should always go make a comment that addresses the situation. Even if you don’t feel like you are at fault, simply responding shows that you are attentive to complaints from patients. And you should always acknowledge their frustration and promise to try to make the situation better.
2. How Can Bad Reviews Affect My Clinic?
Bad reviews can cost you money. Usually, one bad review isn’t a problem, and can actually be helpful because no one expects any clinic to be perfect. But as bad reviews accumulate, they can drive patients away, damage your reputation, and add stress to your clinic staff.
3. Should I Always Apologize For a Bad Review?
Apologizing in some form is almost always a smart move. An apology helps the aggrieved patient believe their complaint was heard, that responsibility was taken, and that something will be done to prevent it from happening again.
Apologies also convey respect, which is critical if you want to diffuse a grudge. Otherwise, the bad review is the tip of the iceberg. The person who writes a bad review is also badmouthing your clinic by word of mouth every chance they get.
Who is Rick Lau and CallHero?
Rick has built three 10 million dollar healthcare businesses over the past 15 years including a network of 127 clinics with over 1400 employees. He is one of the most sought-after mentors for clinic owners in Canada and USA where he helps owners double, triple, and even quadruple their profits by optimizing their clinic operations using his proven systems and leadership strategies. Plus, he has spent over millions in google and facebook ads during his career.
You can follow him on Instagram