Online reviews are important for a dental practice, helping to establish a bond of trust with potential patients. Reviews do the same job as conventional word-of-mouth recommendations but reach a far broader audience, which makes dental reputation management a powerful marketing tool in attracting new patients.
Online reviews often give prospective patients their first impression of your practice and carry almost as much weight as personal endorsements. They can also improve your dental office’s visibility in search engines: reviews can have a bigger influence than advertising in increasing your leverage in localized search engine optimization (SEO).
Potential patients perceive reviews as unbiased and trustworthy because they’re written by people just like themselves, and what your patients say about you is more important than what you say about yourself. But how should you respond to negative reviews?
No dentist likes to see unfavorable comments about his or her practice from unhappy patients. No matter how good your dental services are, adverse reviews and low ratings can deter potential patients, so managing your online reputation is essential to present your practice in the best light. It’s only natural to get upset or even angry when you get a bad review, but this won’t resolve the issue. Here are a few ideas on how to respond to negative reviews to minimize their effects and help to turn the experience into a positive situation for your dental office. There are tools that can help with this, but a dental marketing company may be just what your practice needs to increase and monitor your reviews online.
Don’t ignore a negative review
If you fail to respond to an adverse review, it may appear that you don’t care what your patients think. Another reason you should reply to a negative review is that it may appease the disgruntled patient by demonstrating that you’re willing to try to resolve their problem. Responding to a bad review will also make you stand out from competitors who ignore reviews. It reinforces the message that you have the best interests of your patients at heart.
If you come across an unfavorable review of your practice, take a deep breath, remain calm, and think things through carefully. When dealing with a patient who is saying that they’ve had a bad experience at your dental office, it will help if you have a set of standard responses to fall back on. These can be a starting point for your response, but you need to personalize your reply to address the specific concerns of the reviewer. Keep in mind that when you respond to a review online, your reply is out there for all to see, so don’t get involved in a fight with the patient.
Fix the problem
While being seen to respond to a negative review is important, you also need to address any genuine issues raised. This might entail inviting the patient to call you or visit your office to discuss the matter in detail. By doing this, you’re showing the individual—and prospective new patients—that you’re willing to resolve any concerns your patients may have. Even if the patient doesn’t take up your offer of a one-to-one conversation, you’ve shown people who saw the review discussion that you were willing to make an effort to remedy the situation. This can go a long way toward establishing trust with prospective patients. Once you’ve fixed a problem to the patient’s satisfaction, ask them to modify their review or remove it.
A bad review can also help you to get an insight into how you could possibly improve the way your practice operates. If you carefully assess what the unhappy patient is saying, you may find there are bigger issues you need to work on.
Get more good reviews
One of the best ways to minimize the effect of bad reviews is to get more good ones. Diminish the impact of unfavorable assessments by encouraging all your patients to post evaluations of your practice. Steer them toward review sites like those run by Yelp, Facebook and Google. Research indicates that nearly 70% of consumers will leave a review when asked to do so,1 and more than 80% of people trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation.2 A further benefit of encouraging ongoing reviews is that potential patients tend to put more trust in recent postings.
Monitor your reviews
You won’t be able to reply to an adverse review it you don’t see it, so it’s essential to monitor the reviews you get. When patients are talking about you and your practice online, you need to know what they are saying so you can promote the positive reviews and repair the potential damage of negative comments. An effective online review strategy will also give you an overview of how patients perceive your practice. Responding to reviews is more important than ever for local businesses like dental offices. A 2017 survey by the BrightLocal SEO platform found that nearly all consumers looked online for local businesses, with 30% regarding review responses as key when evaluating a local business.
How to deal with fake negative reviews
Fake negative reviews can be a nightmare for small enterprises like dental offices, possibly resulting in prospective patients taking their business elsewhere. A false defamatory review can be infuriating but there's no guarantee you'll be able to get it removed. However, depending on the site, you may be able to ask for it to be assessed.
Firstly, take the time to do some research to make sure the review is fake. If you decide to respond publicly to a fake review, write a polite reply. Don't resort to insults or accuse the reviewer of anything. Replying to a fake negative review gives you an opportunity to highlight the core values of your practice in providing excellent care for your patients. On the other hand, being aggressive and insisting on having the last word is likely to do more harm than good.
Because the review is fake, obviously you can’t address the problem for this individual. However, you can make it clear to your real patients and prospective clients that you’re aware of the negative assessment, and that you take reviews seriously.
If you get a negative review on your Google My Business (GMB) profile, you may be able to get it taken down if it violates Google’s policies by being off topic or containing a personal attack or offensive language. Facebook may take down reviews if they don't comply with the platform’s community standards, which prohibit bullying and sexual harassment.
Difficulties of taking legal action
You could consider legal action if a fake review appears to be libelous but this course of action can be extremely time-consuming, costly and frustrating. Because of the guarantee of freedom of speech in the First Amendment, defamation law in the US tends to give more protection to defendants than libel legislation in many other countries. A further problem is that the definition of libel varies in different states, and a defendant may well use the libel defense that the review was fair comment.
Don’t let negative reviews get you down
The occasional negative review is inevitable and the possibility of fake harmful reviews will always be present. However, once you have a strategy in place to deal with them effectively, you shouldn’t be deterred from encouraging honest reviews from your patients. These reviews represent a potent marketing tool that can play a major role in attracting new patients.
1. 70% of consumers will leave a review for a business when asked. Real Time Reviews. https://realtimereviews.com/70-of-consumers-will-leave-a-review-for-a-business-when-asked/. Published March 2017. Accessed April 2018.
2. Sherry Bonelli. How to respond to negative online reviews. BrightLocal. https://www.brightlocal.com/2017/08/23/how-to-respond-to-negative-reviews/. Updated March 2018. Accessed April 2018.
ALSO BY JOHN MARKS
John Marks is a regular contributor to the Apex360 newsletter.
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions.
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