Managing negative reviews and online feedback

13th September 2023

Online reviews are an unavoidable part of running a consumer-facing business. For veterinary practices, which depend on client trust and referrals, the impact of a bad review can be particularly significant.

In our personal lives we may all have been tempted to quickly post a negative review when we think we have received a bad service. Given how easy this can be, it would be unrealistic for even the most well run practice to avoid a negative online review, no matter how unjustified it may be. It is important to consider how you can mitigate the risks of bad reviews and adopt a pro-active approach if you do receive one.

Pre-emptive steps

Prevention is of course better than cure, and the best way to deal with negative reviews is to avoid them. Many negative reviews are emotionally driven, arising out of a feeling of being treated badly.

  • Give information upfront. Bad reviews can be driven by a lack of information, misunderstanding or miscommunication. If you give your clients clear information at the outset – such as in relation to timing, fees and payment options – they are less likely to be taken by surprise and have an emotional response to feeling “caught out”.
  • Train all staff on compliant handling. A bad online review is rarely the client’s first port of call, but generally follows what they regard as an unsatisfactory conversation with a member of staff. If all staff have basic training in how to recognise and respond to potential complaints, it may be possible to resolve the issue before the client thinks of making their issue public online.
  • Ask happy clients to leave positive reviews. Often online reviews skew towards the negative because people who are satisfied with a service do not tend to go online to review it. However, if you ask your clients face to face to give you a review and perhaps give them a link to do so, they will often be pleased to help. A number of positive reviews make any negative review look like an outlier, and less visible.
  • Take control of online listings. Services such as Google reviews, Facebook and Trustpilot allow you to claim the listing for your practice. This will give you the opportunity to manage your online profile and respond to reviews quickly.

When you receive a negative review

How you respond to a negative review will act as a reflection of your practice. Here are some tips for how to deal with a negative online review.

  • Don’t panic. Negative reviews are upsetting, but in most cases they are not as damaging as you may initially feel. We all see bad reviews online, and often take them with a pinch of salt, particularly when they are clearly emotional and lacking in detail.
  • Don’t ignore them. Respond as quickly as you can. Not responding at all or only after a long delay suggests you are not interested in client feedback.
  • Be professional. Use courteous language and treat the reviewer with respect, even if they have not done so. Sarcastic or critical responses may feel satisfying, but they should be avoided.
  • Acknowledge the concern but do not argue the issues. Your client will generally feel they are in the right, even if they are not, and an acknowledgement of their concern is important. Readers of the review will not be interested in a detailed response to factual issues, but will want to see that you take customer feedback seriously.
  • Invite the customer to contact you directly. This shows that you are willing to follow up on any complaints but also means that you can take the issue out of the public forum.
  • Be prepared to draw a line. If you have responded as above but the client will not engage, be prepared to politely end the online conversation. There is no point prolonging a public dialogue once you have made reasonable attempts to respond to it.
  • Consider reporting the review to the service provider. If a review contains particularly damaging information – this may be derogatory language or personal information -you can approach the service provider (e.g. Google) flagging this up and asking them to take the review down.
  • Speak to a lawyer. In some cases, the content of reviews may amount to defamation. Generally, this will be where the review contains false information which would seriously damage the reputation of an identifiable individual or cause serious financial loss to the practice. It may be possible to take Court action against the reviewer if they do not voluntarily remove the review.