You charge too much.

Your waiting room stinks.

The person at the front desk was rude.

You misdiagnosed my pet.

You only care about money.

I am NEVER coming back to your clinic!

Thankfully, not many people are bold enough to say such things in person, but online, people feel much less hindered and negative comments appear on review websites, such as Yelp, Citysearch, Google+ Local, Foursquare, Yahoo, and many others.

It is painful to read comments like that. Most of us feel like we have been attacked, the comments are not justified, and all we want to do is fight back. Sure, you could do that, but then you would come across as an unstable, raving doctor with anger control issues, and you can bet prospective clients will choose the other clinic up the street--or in the next county!

The 5 Commandments of Handling Negative Reviews:

  1. Thou shall be prompt. Keep an eye on your review sites and respond quickly when a negative review is posted.
  2. Thou shall respond privately. It is best to reach out to the person who has been offended via phone or email before considering posting a public comment. If you don't hear back from the person within a couple days, you may need to leave a public response on the review website.
  3. Thou shall not promote thyself as right. You may have all the documentation to prove that you are right and they are wrong, but in the long run, it just won't matter. Most people who post negative reviews feel hurt, ignored, and powerless. They don't care who is right--they want to know you have heard their complaint and that you want to fix the problem.
  4. Thou shall apologize. It's probably not your fault. At least it is not completely your fault, but apologizing breaks down your client's anxiety and allows him or her to consider talking. You can be sorry the person left angry. You can be sorry the pet is still suffering. You can be sorry that person caught you or your practice team on an awful day.
  5. Thou shall ask for help. Before you post anything publicly, ask someone else to read what you plan to post. If you are angry and hurt, it's easy for that to show through in your writing. Let a co-worker or trusted friend read your work and make suggestions to ensure your post is calm and expressing concern. All you really need to say publicly is that you care about the pet, you care about the client, and you want to make things right.

Until we find the perfect veterinary practice, we can safely say that everyone will experience some negative feedback. Use it to help you grow and improve. Take the lesson and then move on. Ask your best clients to write reviews for you so those reading reviews on that website will see the number of people who have had great experiences with you.

Thanks to Ann Pearson, Beyond Indigo's online reputation manager, for writing this piece.

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