A stitch in time saves nine   By Stewart Roode. December 14, 2016.

As service levels in dentistry get more transparent online reviews are becoming more prolific and ever more important. And, now we’re seeing dental practices ramp up their social media activity, the risk of bad reviews is increasing — it’s so easy, as a patient, to get your voice heard on social media.

Yes, this is another thing for overstretched practice owners to worry about but the truth is you’re exposed to the risk of negative comments from the moment your website goes live. A little caution will save you hassle in the long run, and the first thing to do is establish a review handling system. We offer a low cost monitoring service (£140 a month + VAT) that guarantees that as soon as someone posts bad stuff anywhere you see it quickly and are able to offer a prompt and professional reply. Replies that are well thought out take preparation, so a little work on your crisis comms protocol before this ever happens is well worth the effort. It will make the job a lot easier and stop panic taking hold.

The other piece to this is at the other end: you’ll want to have a system for encouraging positive reviews so a steady stream of new comments crowd out the inevitable negative comments. From a business perspective it’s actually very healthy to open yourself up to feedback in online public forums because you’ll be alerted to problems with your patient journey and (hopefully) making improvements to it, and meanwhile the way you respond to complainants will inevitably get slicker.

Most negative online reviews in my experience come from disgruntled patients who have a bee in their bonnet. Some of them are determined to create as much negative noise as possible so they leave really bad reviews in as many forums as they can find. In these cases how you respond depends on the forum. If it’s on Google Business you have an opportunity to reply and there is no space for additional comments, which is handy (the last thing you want is loads of other people piling in adding confusion to your delicate interaction). On Facebook you’ve got other options. You could delete the post from your wall, although that’s likely to annoy the complainant, as many dental practices have discovered to their chagrin. I’d suggest drafting a professional reply, then getting at least three senior members of staff to proof it.

The worst thing you can do is write a kneejerk response that reveals any emotions other than concern for your complainant. Never write a reply when you’re angry. Never send a reply without leaving some time to cool off, and remember to look at it again before sending it. Ideally sleep on it. There’s quite a lot at stake. The other option is to ignore the negative comment and wait for it to be pushed out of sight as new reviews come in. This will take about a month for a practice with a reasonably good volume of patient reviews coming in.

We’ve seen a lot of interesting stuff. One of our clients had a local rival comment on one of their Facebook ads, saying something to the effect of “sign up and fund all their Mercs and Porsches”. That created a conundrum; our client could have hidden the comment, yet that would only hide it from people who were not the complainant or the complainant’s friends, while the other option was to delete it completely, but if the complainant saw it was deleted they might get annoyed and go on a multi-forum hate campaign. So our client’s response had to be considered. Before proceeding we wanted to know if this person had left any reviews elsewhere before — did they have form?

The Christmas John Lewis ad. John Lewis was criticised in the Sunday Times for only publishing positive online reviews

The Christmas John Lewis ad. John Lewis was criticised in the Sunday Times for only publishing positive online reviews

Another memorable one was a vindictive video post left by a disgruntled patient of a high end implant centre. This proved particularly damaging because it was linked to the practice’s Google Business page and was the only video review the practice had received, making it conspicuous. We had a look at the complainant’s online profile and realised he was quite a prolific complainer, writing negative comments about all sorts of things everywhere, and looking at those we realised that the worst thing we could do was leave a reply that risked antagonising him.

The best advice with this stuff is to be proactive. A lot of the time it’s just about getting your patient journey set up so that the reviews are coming in regularly in the first place. That means requesting them regularly, and then when a negative review does come up at least you’ll have others to reflect your service levels accurately. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to cheat. John Lewis was humiliated in November when its customers realised that only their positive online reviews were being published. When a Sunday Times reporter left two reviews about the delivery service, one good and one bad, only the good one was published. John Lewis continued to deny wrongdoing, but the damage to its reputation of transparency and trustworthiness was obvious, and this happened just as it was launching its Christmas TV advertising campaign with the dog on a trampoline.

If you’d like to start 2017 knowing your reputation is safe, get in touch arrange an audit of your online review handling system and your crisis comms protocols.


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“Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to cheat”

Stewart Roode, online marketing director

Author: Stewart Roode