What keeps you up at night?
If you’re like many business owners, the thought of getting a bad review is sure to cost you some sleep. Everyone from product manufacturers, to restaurant owners, to attorneys, to CPAs and more have to contend with them. But for aesthetic professionals, it can be even more frustrating and may hit a bit deeper.
But reviews are a way of life for any business, and nearly every industry and product has had to adapt to this changing landscape. Even salt gets reviews. So it’s very important that your practice have written guidelines for how to respond to both positive and negative reviews.
In this article, we will address some best practices for how to and how not to respond to online reviews.
Who are they to judge me?
After all of your training and years of experience, it’s not uncommon to feel like the reviewer is not qualified to size up you or your practice. After all, they don’t know the intricacies of the procedure they received or are inquiring about.
But, if you can take a step back and try to approach each review objectively and with an open mind, it will go a long way to help you and your practice.
Sure, the reviewer most likely never stepped foot into a medical school. They do know, however, the way they felt when they walked through your door the first time. How they were greeted, how long they had to wait to be acknowledged, whether your waiting room is comfortable or not, how friendly your staff is—and of course, how they felt about their result.
Marketing, not arguing.
Remember: online reviews are a marketing tool. This is business, not personal. Don’t argue with the reviewer, and keep in mind that you are writing for both the reviewer and future readers. How you respond can make a world of difference to someone reading reviews for the purpose of choosing a provider. A prospective patient is more likely to have a positive perception of your practice when you are not defensive and do not debate the reviewer.
One of the most effective methods of responding to negative reviews is to offer to make things right. Keep in mind: you may not be able to actually satisfy the reviewer, but you are not addressing only them. You are addressing the prospective patient and ensuring them that you are someone who is confident, competent, non-defensive, always puts your patients’ interests first, and stands behind your practice.
“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” – Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill himself weighed in on how not to respond to negative reviews a century ago. He was a young army officer, and one of his commanding officers took offense at a London newspaper, which had written an article that was critical of the tactics employed by Churchill’s unit.
Churchill’s superior officer wanted to write a letter to the editor taking point-by-point issue with the editorial that had been written, unpacking why it was off-base and wrong. Churchill was unsuccessful in dissuading him from responding, but here was his argument: no matter how good your arguments may be, the mere fact that you’re advancing them would everywhere be taken as a sign of weakness. Churchill perceived that an army officer taking issue with the content of a London editorial would immediately bring more credibility to that editorial.
Potential patients who read argumentative content from you may actually give the review you’re responding to more credibility than they would have otherwise—and view you as inherently defensive.
Don’t sue (or threaten to).
Some physicians take the approach of responding with the threat—or hint—of legal proceedings if the reviewer refuses to take down the review. This is the wrong approach for many reasons.
First, many states have anti-SLAPP laws. These laws protect a person’s first amendment right to free speech from threats of a lawsuit for defamation.
Additionally, filing a lawsuit with the intention of keeping something out of the public view often has the opposite effect and draws more attention to the issue than ever before. It has become known as The Streisand Effect.
Save astro-turf for the sports field.
Has someone ever suggested to you to create a fake email account and write yourself an amazing review? This is known as astroturfing. Not only is it unethical and against most review sites’ terms and conditions, but it can also lead to serious consequences.
The State Attorney’s Office of New York State prosecuted a company named Lifestyle Lift for this practice. This resulted is them agreeing to pay penalties of $300,000 to settle the claims.
Contractually obligated not to use contracts.
Some doctors have taken the approach of having patients sign a contract that prohibits them from leaving a bad review for the practice. There are many reasons why you should not do this, but the one that matters most: it’s illegal. At the end of 2016, the Consumer Review Fairness Act was passed and made these gag clauses illegal to include in your contracts with your patients.
Odds are that if you haven’t already, at some point in your aesthetics career you’re going to get a bad review. When that happens, it’s important to take a step back and respond in a professional and caring manner that focuses on not just the reviewer but the potential future patient as well.
Learn even more! Watch our on-demand webinar, “Someone Online Hates You,” for more insight on dealing with online reviews from RealSelf General Counsel, Josh King (hosted by Eva Sheie, Director of Practice Development).