Ouch! What to do when your veterinary practice receives a negative online review

13 min read

You’re sitting at your desk when you get an email notifying you that your practice has just received an online review. Eager to read the great things yet another client has written about your veterinary practice, you click on the link. Lo and behold, what awaits you is a one-star review, complete with three paragraphs outlining, in great detail, the dreadful experience a client has had at your clinic. So, what do you do?

While the Better Business Bureau (BBB) used to be the destination of choice for disgruntled clients, social media has become the go-to soap box of choice. Unfortunately, it has way more clout than BBB, which is why it’s so essential to stop and pause before you react to a negative online review, as the following case study demonstrates.

one star negative online review

Responding to a scathing one-star review of a Kentucky-based veterinary practice

Recently, when I was online assessing a client’s SEO, I came across a disturbing review. Take a look.

David's one star negative online review of a Kentucky-based veterinary practice

Shocking, right? Needless to say, I immediately grabbed a screen shot and sent it to my client. The questions started flying. “How should we respond?” “How do we take it down?” “Who is this David guy anyway? His name doesn’t even ring a bell.” This was the first one-star review my client’s practice had received in more than a year, and I could sense his frustration and panic. My first piece of advice:

[bctt tweet=”Do NOT remove a bad review. From ANY platform. EVER.”]

Remove a negative online review and the author will quite likely come back with something far worse. The fact you tried to ‘hide’ their comment will only add fuel to the fire. Much like the irate client ranting in your lobby and refusing to take their complaint into an exam room because “everyone deserves to know what kind of business you run,” the author will only become antagonized if you remove their comment. Instead of doing that, follow these four steps:

Step 1: Do your research

Using the information provided in the review, dig into your system to get the facts. In the above case, we had lots of clinical information to go on, as well as a last name and an approximate time period. After reaching out to all practice doctors, we found a surname that matched the author’s, as well as a patient that fit the bill. While we didn’t have the client’s first name on record, we knew we were on the right track.

Step 2: Gather accurate information

The author of this negative online review was very specific in his complaint, citing:

• Six visits with “thousands in bills”
• 2.5 months of suffering
• Paying full price for examinations that didn’t take place
• Nobody looking inside the patient’s mouth to diagnose the growth as cancer

Fortunately, the doctors had done a great job documenting their findings from the patient’s very first visit. According to invoices and medical records associated with this case, treatment recommendations had been given to the client but were declined for financial reasons. Furthermore, the client had not paid “thousands in bills,” but $675. Nor did they pay full fees for exams that weren’t performed. Rather, they were charged a discounted fee for five exams that were performed. Once you’re armed with the facts, it’s time to take them to your client.

Step 3: Contact the client (if this isn’t an option, skip to step 4)

When you reach out to the client, it’s important to do so with patience and sensitivity, no matter how angry you may be feeling at the injustice of their words. Before picking up the phone, check on the patient’s status so that you’re prepared to offer condolences if necessary. Whatever the patient’s status, begin your call by expressing empathy.

Following this rule of thumb, I contacted the individual we had on file for the above case. When I broached the topic of the negative online review, she explained that her son had been extremely upset seeing how sad his mother was when she lost her pet, and he had written the review.

We walked through his complaints together.

In a supportive way, I highlighted the conflict between her son’s story and the information in her file; I referenced notes about discussions she’d had with her veterinarian, as well as invoices reflecting the discounted exam fees. She apologized and invited me to send her copies of her invoices and pet’s medical records, which I did.

I closed the conversation with words along these lines: “I always hate hearing that one of our clients has had a negative experience. I’m also sorry your son didn’t give us an opportunity to speak with him before putting this review online for other clients to see. Once you’ve had a chance to chat with him about our conversation today, and share the information I’m sending you, I’d welcome the opportunity to speak with him to see if he still feels his review is accurate.”

By approaching the situation with sensitivity versus hostility, I managed to shine a light on the serious impact her son’s review could have on our practice. While I have yet to speak with him, I have had success with this approach in the past and am optimistic that he will agree to either edit or entirely remove his negative online review.

Step 4: Respond to the post

Keep your response brief, supportive and original. No cut and pasting; if it comes across as “cookie cutter,” it’s sure to be perceived as insensitive.

If you are able to speak with the client, as I was, keep your response factual and supportive. For example, in a case such as this, you might write:

Mrs. Doe, thank you for taking the time to speak with me on the phone a few days ago regarding this review. After you’ve had a chance to look over the medical records and invoices that I sent, I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss the concerns further with you or your son. I want to make every effort to ensure I support you and your family through the loss of your fur-baby.

If you aren’t able to speak with the client, then I would respond with something more like this:

Mrs. Doe, I am truly sorry that you had this experience at our practice. We never want our clients to feel this way and I would welcome the opportunity to review your pet’s medical records with you. If there is anything I can do to support you or your family, I would be happy to do so.

Keep in mind that even if a client mentions your fees in a review, it’s likely not about the money. [bctt tweet=”Clients just want to be heard, especially when they lose a pet.”] In the above case, the client was extremely grateful for the time I spent chatting with her and listening to stories about her beloved cat. My point is this: hear them out. [bctt tweet=”While you can’t control what people will write about you online, you can control how you choose to respond.”] Responding sensitively is the right thing to do for both your clients and your practice.

On a final note, keep in mind that a good review can spread a little cheer, whereas a bad review can spread like wildfire! Use the VetSuccess Practice Overview Report to keep tabs on whether your active patients are increasing or decreasing, and if you notice a drastic decline, hop onto Google, where you may find the reason staring you right in the face.

Hess, Brandon

Hess, Brandon

Brandon Hess CVPM, CCFP is an associate consultant with VetSupport and a founding member of the Southwestern Ohio Veterinary Management Association. He can be reached at [email protected]

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