The important lesson I learned from a one-star review

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When I was in practice, I was the main person in charge of our social media and digital presence, which included managing and responding to online reviews.

There is one that still sticks with me: A woman left a one-star review claiming that we had killed her dog after a surgery went horribly wrong.

When I first saw the review, I was immediately anxious and unsure how to respond. Her post was quite lengthy, and her description of what transpired didn’t make sense. As I read and re-read it, I found myself struggling to hold back from defensively firing back at every point she made. I thought about all the other potential clients who might be reading this review at that very moment—and the increasing likelihood that more people would see it. The longer we waited to reply, the more anxious I became.

But I held back. Something seemed off. I brought the review to my manager to see if we could find this client and the patient’s record to gain more information about the situation. But even after a couple of hours of searching, we couldn’t find her in our system. This was before digital records, so we worried that maybe we’d misplaced the chart, although this seemed unlikely.

We decided that we should respond to the reviewer to ask for clarification. 

We took a deep breath and crafted a response together. We let her know that we couldn’t find her in our records, but we’d like to discuss it more, and we invited her to give us a call. I was still quite nervous as I waited to see what she would say in response. 

The woman read our reply and realized she had reviewed the wrong clinic! There was another practice in another state with a similar name, but it wasn’t connected to our practice whatsoever. She responded back, apologized for the error, and deleted her review. What a relief! 

And, just as I had suspected, other people had been watching: One of our established clients saw the review and approached us to say he couldn’t believe it was true, and he was glad it was a mistake.

5 Things I learned from responding to a bad online review

  • The time my manager and I took to get level-headed and see the situation as objectively as possible helped us make better decisions and craft a clear and professional response.
  • Pursuing the facts and getting background history before we responded saved us trouble in the long run. 
  • Communicating with the reviewer, even if we didn’t understand where their accusations were coming from, was very uncomfortable, but it was a necessary action to take.
  • Clients, established and potential, do, in fact, read and watch to see how we handle these digital incidents. 
  • We were given an opportunity to see where we could grow as a practice and ended up fixing how we filed our charts to avoid the possibility of a chart going missing, even though it didn’t happen in this case. 

Navigating the choppy waters of social media and marketing can be challenging, especially if you don’t know how it applies to your practice. Do you have a veterinary marketing challenge that you’re currently struggling with? If you have questions about handling online reviews better or want to gain additional social media training, email me at [email protected] and I’d be happy to help!

Cheyanne Flerx is a former veterinary assistant turned veterinary social media marketing coach. She teaches veterinary professionals how to become confident social media marketing managers and how to use social media more effectively and efficiently for their hospitals. To learn more about her, more about social media, or social media management, visit her website at 

Photo credit: © asiandelight E+ via Getty Images Plus  

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.